Most of the rooms at a Howard Johnson hotel in South Portland, Maine, this summer have been occupied by African nationals seeking asylum.
The 192 adults and 119 children are among the more than one million migrants who have been let into the United States after crossing the southern border during President Joe Biden's time in office, according to The New York Times.
The country's backlogged immigration system will keep the many that are hoping to receive asylum waiting on an answer for five to seven years.
In addition to Portland's family shelter, the hotel in South Portland is among the few in the area that offer temporary housing for new immigrants. Asylum seekers in Maine are able to receive financial support for rent and other expenses partly through the state's General Assistance program.
In May, however, Portland officials announced that emergency housing was at capacity and the city could no longer guarantee shelter for new arrivals.
"The community is growing so big that the word is traveling that we are helping," Mike Guthrie, the director of Portland's family shelter told the Times. "So, more people are coming."
In a starkly divided country that has disagreed for decades on who should be admitted and why, the African immigrants' presence is both a philanthropic challenge and a political powder keg. While the federal government can take up to a year to grant asylum seekers permission to work, there are no funds designated to help support them until then, according to the Times.
Citing internal data from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and court filings, the Times reports that the one million who have entered since Biden was sworn in are from more than 150 countries around the world.
Since Biden took office, migrants have been expelled from the southern border 1.7 million times under a pandemic-related public health order. The U.S. has allowed others to stay temporarily for a variety of reasons, including their own countries not allowing them to return. According to the Times, almost 300,000 of those who have been let in have been fitted with tracking devices so that Immigration and Customs Enforcement can monitor their whereabouts while they wait for their court date.
"While the immigration system is badly broken, DHS is managing it responsibly, safely and humanely, and ensuring legal pathways are available for those who truly need them," Luis Miranda, a DHS spokesman said in a statement.
On Capitol Hill, there has long been bipartisan agreement that Congress needs to overhaul the nation's immigration laws to address the current reality.
Biden's critics say that his welcoming message to migrants on the campaign trail was an invitation to enter the United States illegally. In a recent interview as part of a lawsuit filed by Florida, Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz suggested that the administration's stance was to blame for the record number of encounters at the southern border.
The challenge of caring for new immigrants falls to local communities and states in the absence of federal assistance once they are released.
According to the Times, Maine's effort to aid asylum seekers is likely a unique instance in the country, despite the small portion that have settled in the state.
Since January 2021, more than 700 families have relocated to the Portland area from the Democratic Republic of Congo or Angola. Southern Maine has provided them with months of free housing and other assistance, filling the void left by the federal government.
Portland has used state funds and federal emergency shelter dollars to help cover the costs, according to the Times. From January 2021 to this June, the city spent $40 million on migrants.
In a bid to get the Biden administration to take notice of what border communities experience every day, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has bused thousands of newly arrived migrants to Washington, D.C., and New York City, where officials say 5,700 migrants are now being temporarily housed in the shelter system.
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