Former Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s reelection campaign is running a new ad accusing Democratic Gov. Janet Mills of giving welfare benefits to illegal immigrants and “handing out crack pipes.”

Accusing Mills of providing welfare benefits to “illegal immigrants” marks a return to an ad strategy that worked in the 2014 election, when LePage defeated U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, and independent Eliot Cutler.

The ad shows the back of a person running away from the camera and ostensibly from border officials before cutting to an image of South American migrants seated in a row in front of a border patrol vehicle. “Mills,” the male narrator intimates, “giving taxpayer-funded benefits to illegal immigrants.”

The ad highlights Maine’s practice of providing General Assistance, a safety net program that provides vouchers for necessities such as shelter and food, to people seeking asylum in the United States. Whether asylum seekers got into the country legally with a temporary visa or by sneaking across a border, they are legally present once they have asked for asylum and can stay until their final immigration status is determined.

The practice of providing assistance is based on a state law passed in 2015 under LePage, who at the time had been trying to stop asylum seekers from being eligible for General Assistance. LePage was widely expected to veto the 2015 bill, but failed to do so within the required 10-day window. The bill, along with dozens of others, became law.


After the law was enacted, the administration set strict rules about which types of asylum seekers were eligible, something advocates said excluded certain groups who should be eligible, including victims of human trafficking. When Mills took office in 2019, and Portland was trying accommodate the sudden arrival of hundreds of asylum seekers, her administration rewrote those rules to make more people eligible.

The ad cites a Press Herald story about the Mills rule change, as well as an interview conducted by Howie Carr, a conservative radio host and prominent LePage supporter. In that interview, the border chief in Houlton explained that the migrants coming to Portland at the time had crossed the southern border illegally.

The ad aired by the LePage campaign takes some liberties with facts. Asylum seekers are legally present and eligible for assistance under a Maine law enacted when Paul LePage was governor. Image from Paul LePage campaign ad

That may have been true for many of the new arrivals, but it lacks important context.

At the time, President Trump had instituted a “remain in Mexico” policy, preventing asylum seekers from entering the country at an official port of entry to ask for asylum. Some migrant families – desperate after escaping their home countries and traveling months only to languish at the border – crossed illegally into the U.S. and then asked for asylum when they were caught by the border patrol.

After they declare they are seeking asylum, regardless of how they entered, applicants are released by border agents and allowed to go to whatever community they choose, often selecting them based on whether they have friends or family there.

Therefore, it’s not accurate to claim that Mills supports welfare for illegal immigrants. A noncitizen who has asked for asylum, however they entered the country, is pursuing a lawful process and qualifies for public assistance under state law.


The ad also repeats a widely discredited accusation that Mills is “handing out crack pipes.”

Some nonprofit harm-reduction groups that receive a combination of public and private funding to help provide clean syringes and access to treatment also are handing out pipes that can be used to smoke drugs, including crack cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin. The pipes are seen as a safer alternative to the more deadly practice of injecting drugs, as well as being a potential step into addiction treatment.

Those pipes, however, are not included as part of the federally funded harm-reduction services provided by those groups. In response to a wave of Republican criticism nationwide, the Biden administration and individual harm-reduction groups have denied that any public funding goes toward the pipe distribution and the claims have been widely debunked. Some also have pushed back on the crack pipe attacks as sending a hidden racial message to voters because crack cocaine used to be associated with urban drug use that mostly affected communities of color.

In addition to welfare for noncitizens and crack pipes, the new LePage ad also attacks Mills for allegedly distorting LePage’s position on abortion, something the Press Herald examined in  a previous story .

Here, LePage is referring to an ad created by a political action group – not the Mills campaign – that says LePage’s support for overturning Roe v. Wade means he supports allowing states to ban abortion even in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is in danger. The construction of the ad implies that LePage supports such complete bans, too, although his campaign has denied that and has repeatedly criticized Democrats for distorting his position.

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