Portland immigration clinic helps asylum seekers take ‘first step of a very long road’

Published by Portland Press Herald | November 28, 2022

Portland Press Herald logoWith help from volunteers and nonprofits, more than 300 new Mainers fleeing persecution in other countries have recently begun the process of securing asylum – and safety.

Portland Press Herald image of an asylum seeker applying for support.

Hope Acts, a nonprofit that assists new Mainers, has recently partnered with the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition and the Portland Public Library to help people navigating the asylum-seeking process. Here, interpreter Rodrigo Juliani reviews the application of Mabiala Kuta Nsikulusu, 31, of Angola. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

When Annastasia Candido and her family arrived in Maine in August, they had no money and no home. The family had just fled Namibia, traveling 7,000 miles, seeking asylum and a safer future in the United States.

While staying in a Portland shelter, her father shared their story with immigration activist Serge Asumani. He directed them to the Asylum Application Resource Center, a program that had just been launched by a nonprofit group, Hope Acts, and the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition.

The center’s twice-weekly clinic at the Portland Public Library helps asylum seekers submit their applications to the federal government.

Within a few weeks, Candido and her family had their applications filed, received “alien registration numbers” and had begun the lengthy – and often life-saving – process of obtaining asylum in the U.S.

More than 300 asylum seekers have filed their applications through the center since it opened three months ago.

Maine has welcomed thousands of asylum seekers over the past few years. The immigrants typically are fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries, and are allowed to remain in the U.S. while making a case in immigration court for permanent status.

Often, like some immigrants at the resource center, the applicants are reluctant to share details about what they’ve experienced, either because of trauma involved or fear that too much disclosure might affect their prospects for asylum.

The new Mainers come to the state for many reasons. There are ample jobs once a work authorization is granted. The state is close to Canada, which has immigration-friendly policies.

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