Maine DHHS chief says immigrant welfare probe raises terrorism concerns

Good morning from Augusta, where “several” immigrants who receive welfare benefits are “raising concerns around criminal activity and terrorism.”

That’s according to Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew in comments on Thursday to a reporter for WCSH. That was after Gov. Paul LePage told the Boston Herald that he has ordered Mayhew and her department to “look at our welfare rolls closer” to scrutinize immigrants who are receiving public assistance. A DHHS representative said the goal of the review is to determine whether the state should continue to participate in any “refugee-related programs.” A similar query has been launched in Massachusetts, according to the newspaper.

All of this is in response to the news this week that an Iranian refugee who once lived in Maine radicalized and later died fighting for ISIS in Lebanon. State officials said this week that the man, Adnan Fazeli, received food stamps and cash assistance while in Maine.

LePage has long been focused on eliminating welfare benefits for what he calls illegal immigrants — mostly refugees and asylum seekers who have come to the United States but not yet completed the immigration process.

It should be noted that all evidence points to the fact that Fazeli entered the country legally after a standard and rigorous refugee vetting process.

Robyn Merrill, director Maine Equal Justice Partners, told MPBN on Thursday that state officials broke the law by revealing to the Boston Herald that Fazeli’s family had received welfare benefits.

“Federal law is clear that people’s confidentiality should be protected,” said Merrill.

Mayhew said the administration would ask the next Legislature to consider new restrictions on how immigrants can receive welfare benefits in Maine. That would mark a continuation of similar efforts that have been underway under LePage since at least 2013. The differences between then and now are:

  1. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has highlighted the issue and put it at the center of the American political debate.
  2. LePage has been beating this drum now for years.
  3. The Fazeli case brings the issue home to Maine and will provide fodder for advocates of restricting social services to immigrants.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. — Christopher Cousins


Cain defends trip to policy conference at California winery

The National Republican Campaign Committee is attacking Emily Cain, who is the Democratic candidate in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, for attending an event at a Napa Valley winery that among others will include U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California. This follows on the NRCC attacking Cain last year for attending a Washington, D.C. wine-tasting reception and fundraiser in her honor.

“What exactly does Cain have against Maine wineries?” reads an NRCC news release. “Maybe when she gets back home, she can check out the wineries in Maine. They seem really nice!”

The Republican release also continues an attack narrative that links Cain to Pelosi, whom Republicans cast as a negative and divisive figure. They pursued a similar tactic in 2014, when Cain lost to Republican Bruce Poliquin, who is seeking re-election this year. The GOP hopes that linking Cain to Pelosi, whom they decry as an elitist liberal, will turn off independent voters in the more conservative 2nd District.

Dan Gleick, a spokesman for the Cain campaign, said the Napa Valley Issues Conference is attended by members of Congress, candidates and policy experts and is focused on innovation and the economy. Gleick said incumbent Rep. Bruce Poliquin and his supporters shouldn’t criticize Cain for seeking out-of-state support.

“So far this year, Emily has earned the support of 2,356 real people here in Maine, to Congressman Poliquin’s 188,” wrote Gleick. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hit

  • Border tour: U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine will host a day-long tour of Maine’s northern border next week and a town hall discussion in Houlton to discuss concerns about border security. Participating in the events will be Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security, and U.S. Border Patrol Chief Mark Morgan. The public town hall is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday Aug. 25 at the Shiretown Motor Inn in Houlton.

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Go make a photograph, will you?

It’s World Photo Day. According to this website we’re all supposed to make a single photo that shares OUR world with the rest of the world.

“From everyday life to incredible landscapes, our global gallery is an evolving mosaic images captured by photographers of all skills levels living in a diverse range of countries and cultures,” reads the website.

Here’s your soundtrack. Here’s my photo:

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Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.