Immigrants seeking asylum in Maine may soon be eligible for additional state benefits, thanks to a measure that Gov. Paul LePage (R) appears to have accidentally allowed to become law.
The Bangor Daily News reports that, perhaps due to a misunderstanding about the state’s legislative process, LePage has allowed at least 19 bills to become law that he intended to veto.
One of those bills, LD 369, seeks to extend financial assistance to refugees and asylum seekers in the state who have fled from violence and unrest in their home countries. Immigrants who apply for asylum typically cannot immediately get a U.S. work permit, which makes them more likely to require assistance for basic needs like food and housing.
Over the past year, LePage has been clear about his opposition to this particular legislation, referring to it as “illegal alien welfare.”
At issue, however, is the “pocket veto” process in Maine. If the state legislature has concluded for the session, the governor’s inaction on a piece of legislation over the course of 10 days ensures that it’s “pocket vetoed,” without giving lawmakers a chance to vote to override the decision. It appears that LePage intended to use this process to reject the asylum bill, among other pieces of legislation, including a measure to prohibit the shackling of pregnant inmates.
There’s just one problem: Maine’s legislature is still in session, so LePage’s inaction didn’t work as planned. Instead of vetoing the bills, his 10-day delay may now allow them to become law without his signature, according to the state constitution. The ACLU of Maine says that it’s clear to them that the legislation should be allowed to take effect.
“The law is clear, the Constitution is clear: We’re still in session; we haven’t adjourned, so a pocket veto isn’t even an option,” House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe (D) told the Portland Press Herald on Tuesday night, after the 10-day period passed without LePage taking action on the legislation. “So in the meantime, we should celebrate these bills becoming law.”
LePage’s potential goof represents a real victory for immigrant advocates in Maine, who — frustrated with the inaction on this particular issue in the state — have begun to extend welfare payments to asylum seekers on a more local level. Last month, the city of Portland voted to adopt this policy for the refugees living within its bounds.
“We do not believe that we can turn our backs on people who have chosen to make a new life in Portland, and want to contribute to our social and economic fabric,” David Brenerman, one of Portland’s city council members, explained at the time.
The GOP governor, however, is likely less than pleased. LePage has a long history of anti-immigration sentiment, and has previously suggested that undocumented immigrants can spread disease, even though public health experts say there’s no evidence to back up those racially charged claims.