WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said Thursday he plans to introduce federal legislation to shorten the waiting period that prevents asylum-seeking immigrants from pursuing work to support themselves and their families.

The issue has been a wrangling point for state and local officials in Maine who say immigrants waiting for work permits have come to depend on temporary financial support offered through city-run General Assistance programs.

Some immigrants receive as much as 18 months of aid from local municipalities and growing populations have put a crimp in local budgets, according to some local officials including Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald.

King’s legislation would shorten the waiting period for those seeking asylum from 150 days to 30 days, allowing more immigrants to more quickly become self-sufficient, according to a release issued by King’s staff Thursday.

“Without any source of income, they are often left to rely on General Assistance funds provided by cities and towns throughout Maine in order to survive,” according to the release.  “Senator King’s bill would reduce that waiting period to 30 days, which would allow an appropriate amount of time to conduct background checks while speeding up the time frame for asylum-seekers to pursue jobs in order to support themselves and become less reliant upon assistance from municipalities.”

Scott Ogden, a spokesman for King in Washington, said attracting new immigrants to Maine is key to growing the state’s economy. He said King is attempting to fix a long-outdated federal law that prevents asylum-seekers from gaining employment more quickly.

“True to the Maine tradition, our state welcomes those who are in search of a better life,” Ogden said in a prepared statement. “Not only do they enrich our communities culturally, but they also bring fresh ideas and new perspectives that can contribute to a stronger economy.  Sen. King believes it’s time that we re-examine our immigration laws and find a way to allow asylum-seekers to support themselves like they want to do, and his bill is a first step in that direction.”

King is expected to announce his proposal during a joint appearance with Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Chris Hall and Philemon Dushimire, an asylee from Burundi who went through the mandatory waiting period, during a news conference at 10 a.m. Friday at Portland City Hall.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.