Let’s Move the Statue of Liberty to Portland?

Good News from the Resistance: Maine has the oldest and second whitest (Go Vermont!) population in America. So when 400+ asylum-seekers landed in the state this past summer, mostly from the Congo and Angola, many — including Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling — recognized an opportunity. “If we have discovered the magic wand that will bring young families to Portland to help us build the next generation, why would we want to stop that, especially when it costs us so little money?” the mayor said.

Why Maine? No one knows exactly. Some recent arrivals said they’d heard through the grapevine that Portland was a safe, aging city that needed more workers. Others had heard there was a strong safety net.

After making their way by air to Brazil, then by foot and bus through Mexico to the Texas border, what the migrants found in Portland was a welcoming community. When the city set up hundreds of cots in the Portland Expo and school gyms, 1,200 residents volunteered to help. In Cape Elizabeth, there was a Welcome! 4th of July picnic. The Portland City Council voted to allocate $900,000+ of private donations for the new arrivals’ housing and basic needs. Non-profits like the New Mainers Resource Center helped find the migrants more permanent housing in Portland and nearby townsProsperity Maine – whose executive director Claude Rwaganje was born in the Congo — provides financial education, “the first step to achieving your American dream.”

Last week, Luc Mpangaje flew from his home in Texas to Portland, to thank members of the First Parish Church for helping him in 2010 when he’d been an asylum seeker fleeing Burundi, where he’d been jailed and beaten by police for his political views. He’d arrived in Portland with $80, speaking no English, without his family. Now a U.S. citizen living in Dallas, and reunited with his wife and 10-year old son Malcolm and 13-year old daughter Yasmine, Mpangaje works as an airport shuttle driver. He’s saving to move his family back to Portland.

“If you do something good for me, you’ll always stay in my heart,” Mpangaje said. “That’s why I keep coming back here – because I feel like I owe something.”

Mainers, listen up! Ditch Susan Collins, and you’ll soon be topping another list: Best State in the U.S. 

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