Maine senators’ past aid to Fazeli shows immigration policy is not as simple as blocking ‘bad guys’

Good morning from Augusta, where the case of Adnan Fazeli, the Iranian immigrant who fled Maine to fight and die for the Islamic State in 2015, has dominated our politics since first being reported this week by the Portland Press Herald.

On Wednesday, Gov. Paul LePage told the Boston Herald that he has ordered the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to “look at our welfare rolls closer” after his administration told the newspaper that Fazeli and his family received food stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits from 2009, when he came here, to 2013.

This is common, as federal rules allow refugees like Fazeli to receive those types of benefits. DHHS spokeswoman Samantha Edwards didn’t respond to a BDN inquiry seeking more details on the review, but she told the Press Herald that it was focused on whether or not immigrants are committing welfare fraud.

Earlier this week, LePage called for increased vetting for refugees entering the U.S., a main focal point for Republicans since last year. He was joined by U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who said refugees were coming to the country “without proper safeguards in place.”

It’s worth noting that all indications are that Fazeli raised no red flags when coming here in 2009 and was radicalized online while living in Maine.

Fazeli’s family played a key role in alerting the FBI to his radicalization: In an interview with the Bangor Daily News, Portland doctor Jabbar Fazeli said he went to authorities in 2014 after hearing from family that his brother was in Syria with “bad guys” who turned out to be the Islamic State.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, told WMTW that “we have to be careful that we do not assume that someone who has come to this country is automatically a terrorist,” but she said American immigration policy should focus on widows, children and seniors who are “far less likely to pose a threat.”

Two connections between the Fazelis and Maine’s congressional delegation further illustrate this case’s nuances: The family was in touch with the offices of Collins and former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe in 2005 and 2007, according to Collins spokeswoman Annie Clark.

In 2005, the senators helped Jabbar Fazeli, who is now the president of the Maine Medicial Association, arrange life-saving, emergency surgery in Philadelphia for Adnan Fazeli’s baby daughter, who Clark said “would not have been able to survive” without that treatment.

The offices were in touch with Jabbar Fazeli again two years later as his family was seeking refugee status, when Clark said Collins’ office “explained the international refugee process and forwarded documents to the agencies responsible for making the decision.”

Clark said that Collins praised Jabbar Fazeli for his “courage and patriotism in contacting the FBI,” illustrating that amid the focus on vetting, there’s a complicated case of a respected family forced to blow the whistle on an increasingly dangerous man. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • The Legislature’s Right-to-Know Advisory Committee asked lawmakers to tweak a 2015 law shielding information about rail transportation of crude oil or other hazardous materials, according to the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting. The committee sent a letter to the Judiciary Committee asking for a review of the law, which was passed aiming to ensure railroads gave public safety officials details about hazardous shipments without that information being made public. But the didn’t railroads provide that information, it just made the information secret if requested.
  • Collins and Poliquin will have a press conference at 1:30 p.m. in Bangor today on their legislation that would allow financial institutions to flag suspicious activity to authorities. The Senior Safe Act has already passed in the House and it’s pending in the Senate, where it’s expected to pass. It’s modeled after a program started by Maine Securities Administrator Judith Shaw. (We errantly said in yesterday’s Daily Brief that the press conference was yesterday.)
  • The campaign supporting ranked-choice voting will hold 19 “beer elections” at Maine breweries in September. It’ll start at Oxbow Brewing Company in Newcastle on Sept. 2. Attendees will be able to rank beers in a demonstration of how the ranked voting system would work. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Best of Maine’s Craigslist

  • Just for the articles?: Someone named “Mr. Shittle” in the town of Denmark is giving away two boxes of Playgirl magazines.
  • ‘No sex,’ just regular, old, naked painting: A person in Old Town wants to “paint on somebody” and “can help remove the hair on the hard to reach places like your back,” but “there will be no sex or the like.”
  • Coffee? Hot or cold, it doesn’t matter: A man is “in Ellsworth often and it would be great to have coffee buddy. Or iced coffee.” — Michael Shepherd
Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.