Asylum Seekers Arriving In Portland at Astronomical Pop-Based Rate.
Posted by Ed Folsom, May 23, 2023
The magnificence of nonchalant understatement in the following passage in today’s Portland Press Herald about blew me away:
“More than a quarter-million people filed for asylum in the United States in 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review. The nearly 1,400 Portland has welcomed so far this year represent just a tiny fraction of the overall numbers. But for a city of 68,000, that number is a lot.”
This passage appears in a series on asylum seekers in Maine: “Long Way Home.” How about the first 2 sentences, telling us that Portland has taken in nearly 1,400 asylum seekers so far this year and suggesting it’s no big thing? After all, it’s only a “tiny fraction” of the 250,000 people the government reports filed for asylum in the U.S. last year. Would it only be a really big deal if Portland took in all 250,000? But of course, the Press Herald allows, for Portland’s population of 68,000 the number is a lot. Well, just how much “a lot” is it?
The U.S. has a population of roughly 330 million. Maine has a population of roughly 1.3 million. Portland has a population of 68,000. According to the story, in the less than 5 months of this year, Portland has taken in 1,400 asylum seekers. If Portland continues at that rate, it will take in more than 3,360 asylum seekers this year. If all of those people were to remain in Portland, they would increase Portland’s population by just under 5% this year. Put differently, at that rate Portland will add more than 1 new asylum seeker for every 20 current residents this year.
For the entire State of Maine, those 3,360 asylum seekers would amount to an additional asylum seeker for every 387 current residents. And the asylum seekers arriving in Portland are not the only asylum seekers arriving in Maine.
How do Portland’s numbers compare to the 250,000 asylum seekers absorbed into the U.S. as a whole last year? In a U.S. population of 330,000,000, 250,000 new asylum seekers amount to 1 new asylum seeker for every 1,320 U.S. residents. In other words, spread over Maine’s entire population, the rate at which Portland is accepting asylum seekers this year is 3.4 times the population-based rate at which the U.S. as a whole absorbed all U.S. asylum applicants last year. For Portland itself, the population-based rate at which it is taking in asylum seekers this year is 66 times the rate at which the U.S. as a whole absorbed asylum applicants last year.
Most of the asylum seekers arriving in Portland are citizens of countries in central Africa, including the Democratic Republic of Congo (pop. approx. 96 million), the Republic of Congo (pop. approx. 6 million), and Angola (pop. 34.5 million). Together, these 3 countries have a population of roughly 136 million, which is 41% of the number of people in the entire U.S. And right now, there’s a war going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo that’s likely to cause a lot more people to flee.
According to the Portland Press Herald series, asylum seekers are coming to Portland because word has spread among refugee communities that Portland is very safe, welcoming, and generous towards asylum seekers – highly unusually so. Asylum seekers are passing through country-after-country, then through state-after-state once they cross our border with Mexico, choosing to hold out for the U.S. and for Portland, Maine, because the word is out.
Aren’t we already experiencing a housing shortage in Maine? What is our capacity to absorb this huge influx of non-English-speaking children – some of whom are school-aged but have never been to a school — into our school systems? Ultimately is it an act of kindness or of cruelty to make Maine such an unusually attractive draw for the vast population of asylum seekers throughout the world, to make promises we can’t possibly keep? When will the politics of mmm-feeling good exceed our capacity to assimilate, and swamp us? And, by the way, in terms of housing, with so many empathic policies in place, how is it that we already have all those tent clusters in our cities and towns?