Statement on Portland’s Asylum Seekers

On Wednesday, June 12, around 100 asylum seekers– many of them women and children– arrived by bus in Portland. Because our emergency shelters are already at capacity, these asylum seekers are being sent to stay at the EXPO building. Federal and state agencies have told the city to expect more arrivals in the coming weeks.

The Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America rejects the narrative put forth in news headlines that the arrival of these families is a “problem” and affirm that this “very critical emergency” we face is actually a manufactured crisis.

The City and State are already being congratulated for their response, when they should be shamed for their evasion tactics. Asking citizens to donate via crowdfunding text is washing their hands of their responsibility, both in the incendiary language they have used to respond to this situation, and for actions they’ve taken to get us to such an unprepared position

The effects of the United States’ reckless foreign policy, disastrous domestic and global wealth inequality, and an increased frequency of climate disaster will only bring more people in dire need to Portland, and our city needs to be better prepared to welcome them.

Asylum seekers are not coming here just because they want to.

They are fleeing violence, food scarcity, and persecution in their home countries, and are making the obvious decision to save the lives of themselves and their families by coming to the United States. The US has played a role in the global injustices and poverty that facilitates this violence, and we have an obligation to help the people impacted by it. US imperialism and global capitalism will continue to create instability around the world. As a self-proclaimed sanctuary city, Portland must fulfill that proclamation with action and greater preparations to meet the basic needs of people fleeing violence

The only problem we have is a public policy one.

Portland City Manager Jon Jennings and the councilors who walk in lock-step with him have prioritized private profit over the public good for far too long, systematically eroding our housing stock, under-funding our shelters and community support funds, and creating the perfect conditions for fiscal catastrophe and civil unrest. Their policy decisions and votes provide corporate welfare to the real estate developers and the billionaire corporations funding their campaigns. This leaves working-class residents to pick up the tab, as we have done here. They have pushed our city to the breaking point, and any crisis we face is a direct result of their short-sighted decision making

We need radical solutions, not damage control.

Portland’s $200,000 Community Support Fund was established in 2015 to help families who are here legally but cannot yet work. Underfunded from the start, Manager Jennings sponsored an amendment to deny new applications to the fund beginning July 1, 2019. Councilor Pious Ali and Mayor Ethan Strimling will sponsor a motion at the June 17th City Council Meeting to strike that amendment, but we must do more.

For too long, our housing stock has been commodified and compressed behind exclusionary zoning walls to cater to the needs and profits of the wealthiest in society. Massive corporations have been sold swaths of public land at below market value. Hoteliers and short-term landlords have made fortunes by flipping our depreciated and depleted housing stock. The council has enacted affordable housing zoning in name only, and voted down any efforts to strengthen it

We make the following demands:

We demand that arbitrary deadlines not be set upon asylum seekers to sign up for benefits.

We demand that finding sanctuary for new arrivals not be limited to “affordability” logic, in which the end goal is profit, but rather where is best for them. For example, the schools that are best funded (often by affluent white populations) should not escape consideration

We demand that corporations like Wex, Unum, and Maine Health, be required to pay into the Community Support Fund.

We demand that hoteliers be required to donate a number of rooms in times of housing shortages.

We demand that while our city of 70,000 is unable to house one-to-two-hundred new neighbors in need, short-term rental licenses be rescinded.

We demand that our city’s “inclusionary” zoning rules be made truly inclusionary, by removing the ability to build affordable units off-site.

We demand that our city’s inclusionary zoning fees be at minimum doubled and the required affordable units be raised to at least 25%.

We demand that our city begin a good faith dialog about building public housing.

We demand that the media, those tasked with governance, and those citizens who engage in discourse do not restrict themselves to the narrow thinking of neoliberal austerity. The question should not be, can we afford it? But rather, how do we accommodate all that are made homeless?