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Maine City Asks Residents for Donations to House Asylum Seekers in Sports Venue

AP Photo/Eric Gay

The city of Portland, Maine, is seeking donations to accommodate a surge of “asylum-seeking immigrants” that will be housed in a basketball arena. 

According to the Portland Press, the Portland Exposition Building needs donations to house around 300 “asylum-seeking individuals there through the summer” as more than 1,000 asylum seekers have arrived in the city since the beginning of the year. 


“This is a very dire situation and the opening of the Expo is the last overnight overflow space that we as city staff have available to open and operate,” Interim City Manager Danielle West said in a statement. “We are truly beyond our capacity to be able to continue to provide compassionate care for those seeking shelter.”

Reportedly, this is the second time in recent years that the basketball arena has been used to accommodate an influx of migrants (via the Associated Press): 

Communities around the country have been dealing with growing numbers of asylum seekers, and pending rule changes could mean more are coming. A COVID-19 pandemic rule that has suspended rights to seek asylum for many is slated to end in May.

It was a massive undertaking to make Portland’s temporary shelter ready for asylum seekers, but it was not as frantic as in 2019, when the city ramped up in 24 hours, said Kristen Dow, Portland’s director of health and human services.

But the local situation is nonetheless dire.

More than 1,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Portland so far this year, and the city is has been sheltering about 1,200 people per night. A new emergency shelter with 208 beds filled to capacity on its opening night last month, and, including the Exposition Building, the city has no more large spaces to use, Dow said.

Many of the asylum seekers are from Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dow said.


“Once it fills up, the city doesn’t have another space to open,” Dow said. “This is a temporary emergency shelter. There are a lot of smaller shelters around serving this population and we are grateful.”


According to Daily Mail, running the basketball arena as a shelter for two months in 2019 cost Portland around $400,000. The outlet added that “while the numbers at the northern border are far dwarfed by those in the south, it continues to be a weak-point since efforts are focused on addressing the thousands of migrants that cross over the southern border every day.” 

Reportedly, the city raised nearly $1 million in private donations to support the 400 asylum seekers who arrived that year.

Last month, WGME reported that 17 illegal immigrants were arrested in Lisbon Falls and brought to detention centers. The immigrants were from Guatemala and Nicaragua. Two of them had re-entered the United States after they were previously removed.

WMTW noted that the 17 illegal immigrants were discovered in an investigation over a hit-and-run earlier this year. 

“We are seeing a sharp increase in the flow of illegal labor in and out of Maine,” William Maddocks, chief patrol agent of the Houlton Sector, told the outlet. “Border Patrol will continue to protect our local communities here in Maine and the U.S. as a whole by ensuring those illegally entering the country are apprehended.”


Border Patrol agents told the outlet that the immigrants were employed at an “unnamed Massachusetts-based company” which rented their home for them. 

"The exploitation of the undocumented population will continue as long as there is no consequence. We will do all we can to remove the incentives that drive such exploitation," he continued.

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