Traveling to the U.S. from Brazil, Teresa Matondo, 35, an asylum seeker from Angola, learned about Maine’s largest city. “There were people talking about this town Portland, where if you got there, they would help,” she said. She entered the U.S. in March with her three children. They are among at least 930 asylum seekers to come to Portland this year, many either with permission through ports of entry or illegally along the southwest border. Like Haitians who have headed to Boston or Cubans arriving in Iowa, these migrants are reaching communities large and small in search of established immigrant groups, aid and jobs. The surge has taken a toll on Portland, straining shelters, schools and local aid groups, the Wall Street Journal reports. Matondo fled Angola after her husband from an arranged marriage repeatedly abused her, including beating her into a coma. Like many Angolans, she traveled first to Brazil before making the journey through Mexico to the U.S. border. She crossed into California, roughly 3,000 miles from Portland. The Maine city of 68,300 is sheltering 1,110 people, many of them asylum seekers. They have filled city facilities, but also hotel rooms and a middle-school gymnasium. The city plans to use its convention center as a temporary emergency shelter.
Some asylum seekers have been sleeping inside a warming center next to a city shelter for families on the edge of downtown. On a few cold nights there was only enough room for people to sleep in chairs. “When you’ve got to look at a little kid and tell them you can’t lay down on the floor, that’s tough,” said Mike Guthrie, who directs the shelter. Portland also saw an asylum-seeker surge in 2019. The city noted the recent influx has been far higher. Maine is a rural state that needs newcomers to fill jobs, and Portland has welcomed asylum seekers for decades, said Kate Snyder, the city’s mayor. The city also has an acute housing shortage and rising prices, heightening the challenge of finding places for newcomers to live. “The pressure right now on emergency shelter is so incredible,” she said. Since President Biden took office, Border Patrol agents have made more than 4.5 million arrests of migrants from around the world crossing illegally into the U.S. from Mexico, an all-time high. Some migrants are released and allowed to travel and temporarily settle in the U.S., but they must file a formal asylum request in court within a year.