Migrants walk across the Darien Gap from Colombia to Panama in hopes of reaching the United States this month. Pandemic-related asylum restrictions, known as Title 42, expired Thursday and were replaced by a rule that allows border agents to turn away asylum-seekers if they haven’t first applied online or sought protection in a country they traveled through to reach the U.S. border. Associated Press

Immigrant advocates say they are worried that a new federal rule will broadly block access to asylum at the southern border.

The new rule allows border agents to turn away asylum-seekers if they haven’t first applied online or sought protection in a country they traveled through to reach the U.S. border. Most asylum-seekers who come to Maine are from West Africa and often travel through multiple countries in South America before crossing at the southern border with Mexico.

“The Biden asylum ban will inflict massive human suffering,” Lisa Parisio, policy director at the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, said in a statement. “It categorically blocks access to asylum at the U.S.–Mexico border, with only a few narrow exceptions.”

The group, which provides legal services to more than 1,000 asylum-seekers in Maine each year, said the new Biden administration rule would put people in vulnerable situations into even more danger as they are forced to find alternative routes or are left stranded at the border.

It was ushered in just as the use of Title 42, a pandemic-era restriction that allowed the government to quickly turn away migrants at the border, expired with the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ending Title 42 was expected to result in a surge of new arrivals. But on Sunday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told CNN that border crossings were actually down from earlier in the week, though he said it was too early to tell if an anticipated surge from the lifting of Title 42 had peaked.


State and local officials are waiting to see how the two changes could impact the number of asylum-seekers coming to Maine while continuing to advocate for broader immigration reforms.

The Mills administration said last week that it is in contact with the city of Portland, which has taken in over 1,000 asylum-seekers this year; the city of Sanford, where about 100 asylum-seekers arrived this month; Maine’s congressional delegation; and other municipalities. The governor has pledged to work with them on the issue, Mills’ spokesperson Ben Goodman said on Friday.

Asylum-seekers begin arriving at the emergency temporary shelter at the Portland Expo on April 10. On Monday, the city moved about 270 people, all of them families, into the Expo, which has a max capacity of 300. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“We are monitoring the expiration of Title 42, including its potential impacts on the state of Maine, and we will continue to work closely with municipalities to mitigate – to the extent possible – any potential local issues associated with its expiration,” Goodman said in an email.


Portland has been overwhelmed by asylum-seekers who have arrived from the southern border in recent months. In April, the city opened the Expo Center as a temporary shelter for asylum-seekers. It quickly filled to its capacity of 300 people and remains full, along with the city’s two other municipally-run shelters.

Even if the end of Title 42 does mean more immigrants will come to Maine, there is no place in Portland to house them, city officials say.


“We are certainly aware of Title 42 expiring and have been staying up to date on the news, but there’s not much it changes for us since we’ve already said on previous occasions that we are at capacity and therefore anyone arriving will be given General Assistance resources to conduct a self-directed housing search,” Portland spokesperson Jessica Grondin said in an email Friday.

Grondin said that information has been shared with people who work at the southern border and the city has been told that they are sharing it with people crossing and seeking asylum.

“While our shelters are at capacity, we do fear that we will see growing unsheltered homelessness in our city and state if there is an increase in the number of people arriving,” Grondin said.

She said the city’s health and human services staff are in contact with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and partners at the border and across the country. Staff also have been attending Department of Homeland Security briefings on the lifting of Title 42 and will continue to do so, she said, and the White House has shared a “toolkit” document with guidance on how to respond to new arrivals.

While many expected the end of Title 42 to lead to a rise in border crossings, immigrant groups like ILAP think the new asylum rules will have the opposite effect and will likely limit the number of asylum-seekers coming to the U.S., and Maine.



The governor’s office said it is evaluating how the state can best support communities and asylum-seekers in the absence of larger federal reforms to the immigration system.

“Fundamentally, this is a national problem, and, as the governor has long called for, Congress must overhaul the country’s broken immigration system, which is unfairly placing a tremendous burden on states and their communities,” said Goodman, Mills’ spokesperson.

Specifically, he said the federal government needs to process asylum claims in a more timely manner and relax restrictions on allowing asylum-seekers to work while their cases are pending. Currently, asylum-seekers must wait at least 180 days after filing claims to be eligible for work permits.

The governor last week signed into law a resolve directing the Maine Department of Labor to request a waiver of the federal rules allowing asylum-seekers in Maine to work during the six months after they apply as well as while they are waiting for work permits to get renewed.

Members of Maine’s Congressional delegation said they agree that the end of Title 42 points to a need for more comprehensive immigration reform.

Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Rep. Chellie Pingree are working on legislation to reduce the waiting period before asylum-seekers can get work authorization, though such efforts in the past have been caught up in partisan conflicts over immigration reform and border security.


“Congress has not passed comprehensive immigration reform in nearly 30 years,” Pingree, D-1st District, said in a statement. “The end of Title 42 signals an urgent need for Congress to enact permanent, bipartisan, and meaningful reforms to fix our broken immigration system. We can start by passing my commonsense Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act.”

“Both sides of the aisle agree we need additional resources like border patrol personnel, border security technology, expanded funding for drug interdiction efforts, and more immigration judges to address current backlogs,” King, an independent, said in a statement.

“It is also clear that broader action is needed to address the underlying causes of mass migration. Congress must come together to ease the burden on border communities, provide legal pathways for work authorization, and provide certainty to Dreamers – ultimately, ensuring that the United States remains true to its values of safety, security and opportunity.”

King introduced a bill Monday that would provide additional resources and technology to border personnel, as well as support for non-governmental organizations that receive asylum-seekers. It also would streamline the visa permit process for businesses looking to hire new employees.

Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd District, and colleagues in the House have introduced a bipartisan bill that would give the Biden administration a two-year temporary expulsion authority for migrants who come to the United States illegally.

And Collins, a Republican, has co-sponsored similar legislation in the Senate.

MaryAsa England, a spokesperson for Collins, said in a statement that there is a crisis at the border, and the end of Title 42 has only made things worse, but the proposed legislation includes protections designed to ensure that migrants are not returned to a place that would threaten their lives, freedom or expose them to torture. “If enacted, this bill would help manage the situation at the border and in Maine,” she said.

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