Asylum Applicants in Portland, Maine: An Update

In the process of the research for my last article on the Congolese diaspora in Maine, I came across an October 2011 Portland Press Herald article about the overwhelming demand for asylum assistance.

The article described the incredible spike in demand for assistance for asylum applicants in Maine: in one year from 2009 to 2010, applications for asylum assistance increased from 100 cases to approximately 400. The majority of these cases, the piece read, were from Burundi, Rwanda, Djibouti, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The paper did not give a conclusive reason for the rise in asylum seekers in Maine, but did contrast this upward trend to the national average, where asylum applications fell a staggering 16 percent from 2006 to 2011. Another differing factor was the success of asylum assistance seekers being helped by the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, Maine’s sole provider of immigration legal aid to low-income residents. According to a study from Syracuse University, the success rate of the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project was 97 percent, compared with the 54 percent national average of asylum seekers with lawyers.

The article mentioned that the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project in Portland was forced to stop accepting new cases in March of 2010 because of this overwhelming demand, but didn’t provide any hints towards the situation at the time of the Press Herald’s publication. I wrote to Noël Young, an asylum coordinator attorney for the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project to ask for an update.

The article says that the demand for asylum assistance increased from 100 cases to about 400 between 2009 and 2010. What is the demand like today?
Young: Same. I don’t have hard numbers for you but the demand has no subsided – but I don’t think it’s increased either. We are slightly better able to deal with it, due to the creation of my position (see below), but we still have to turn people away.

The article also says that you had to stop accepting cases in March 2010 – have you begun again accepting new cases? If so, how many new cases do you take?
Yes – we began again in December 2011, although we certainly cannot take all / meet demand. My position was created and I was hired in June 2011 to deal with the increased demand and by December 2011 we had ‘reopened.’

The article stated that the majority of asylum seekers in Portland were from Burundi, Rwanda, Djibouti, DRC, and Somalia. Is this still the case, or are you seeing any new trends?
All is still the same, with the only addition being Angola.

Young also clarified about the migration patterns for Congolese to Maine; the first wave of Congolese that came to Portland were resettled refugees, whereas the current “explosion” in population are from asylum-seekers.

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