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Maine governor, legal chief dispute immigrant aid

Thursday - 6/26/2014, 2:20am  ET

ALANNA DURKIN
Associated Press

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) -- Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills are at odds over the governor's directive to withhold aid to immigrants who can't prove they're living in the U.S. legally, and their dispute is causing confusion among Maine's cities and towns that dole out the aid.

LePage says federal law prohibits the state from providing aid to those living in the country illegally, and he has threatened to withhold funds for a municipal welfare program if cities defy that prohibition.

But Mills says the governor is overstepping his authority, and she has advised municipalities to ignore his wishes.

Their dispute has generated confusion for cities and towns regarding Maine's general assistance program, which is paid partly by the state. About 1,000 people will be affected and many of them will need assistance while seeking asylum through a lengthy process from places like central Africa, said Susan Roche, executive director of the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project in Maine.

"These are some of the most vulnerable members of our community," she said. "They are fleeing because of the really dangerous situations ... and they need their basic needs to be met."

LePage officials argue that cities and towns are free to use their own funds to help residents.

"Local taxpayers must speak for themselves," the governor said in his weekly radio address. "I urge all Mainers to tell your city councilors and selectmen to stop handing out your money to illegals."

Municipal officials worry that if they continue to provide aid to this segment of the population, they risk losing millions of dollars from the state each year. But if they follow the governor's directive, they fear those who are denied aid will take legal action against them.

Mills said LePage has no authority to circumvent the Legislature, which must sign off on substantive changes. She said his new directive also creates other legal problems. Among them, it would transform municipal clerks into "mini immigration officials," she said.

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said the city is considering all options, including legal action, in light of the fact that the city stands to lose about $7 million -- or about how much it received from the state for the program last year.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine says it's also considering a legal challenge or joining with a municipality that chooses to sue the state.

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Follow Alanna Durkin at http://www.twitter.com/aedurkin


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