After powerful testimony, Lewiston City Council continues support for asylum seekers

After powerful testimony, Lewiston City Council continues support for asylum seekers

The Lewiston City Council on Tuesday voted 6-1 to continue to provide support for asylum seekers currently receiving General Assistance. In a separate, 3-4 vote, the Council decided to stop accepting new asylum-seekers into the assistance program.

The decision, which is more expansive than the Portland City Council’s vote last week to provide assistance to asylum seekers for the next year, came after heartfelt testimony from more than 30 Lewiston residents, including many members of the immigrant community. More than a hundred people packed the council chambers to watch the deliberations.

“If I was able to study and be in a home and eat food, it was because of you. That’s why I’m begging you to provide this assistance for all those who come after me,” said Arsene Badose, an asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of Congo who graduated from Lewiston High School earlier this year.

City Councilors Kristen Cloutier, Nate Libby and Don D’Auteuil supported extending assistance in both votes, and councilors Mark Cayer, Shane Bouchard, and Mike Lachance joined the vote to support currently-enrolled asylum seekers.

Sahro Hassan, an asylee and local entrepreneur whose family fled violence Somalia, spoke about the contributions immigrants have made to the community.

“We contribute. We do it because we care, because we don’t want to see our neighbors suffering,” said Hassan, who recently took first prize in Maine’s Future Business Leaders of America competition. “I’m just asking for you guys to help us until we get on our feet. We’re not here because we’re lazy people. We’re here because our country is not safe enough.”

Councilor Shane Bouchard, who voted against supporting new asylum seekers, asked that the council revisit the question at their next meeting on Tuesday, July 14th, after council members had further reviewed the issue.

Here’s some must-watch testimony from some of the attendees, courtesy of Craig Saddlemire:

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