Proposal for Portland Immigrant Economic Opportunity office moves forward

Council moves forward with immigrant office

PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — The Portland City Council's Economic Development Committee is moving forward with the proposal for a new city office, called the "Office for Economic Opportunity…"

…or is it the "Office of Economic Opportunity and Immigrant Integration?"

That title was one of the points of debate during Tuesday night’s public meeting.

The idea behind the office is that it would act as a resource to connect immigrants to various job services throughout the state.

NEWS CENTER met one Portland immigrant who came to the meeting to see how this proposal could benefit him and his family.

Guilherme Bila comes from Angola, a country in Western Africa. He brings to Maine his four daughters, a degree in operations and production, and his desire to work hard.

Guilherme is the type of person who Mayor Strimling said could benefit from a department to help immigrants get integrated into Maine's economy.

“If we didn't have immigrants, if we didn't have refugees and asylees in our community, we would have had to shut down one-third of our schools,” Strimling said. “Because they are the future of this city — and if we aren't doing everything we can to help integrate them and give them the resources they need — we could be in trouble.”

Guilherme came to a public meeting in Portland to learn more about the proposal for an Economic Opportunity office.

At the meeting. clarification was key. Many feared the office would be replacing already existing programs, such as adult ed, but councilors ensured it would just be a guide to point people to the services they need — something Guilherme said he would welcome.

“Hopefully, it's like somebody is in a dark room, and the need to go outside,” Bila said. “The easy way is to go by the door.”

A small piece of his American Dream and access to job skills for his kids.

“They will know that they have an office thinking about them, thinking good about them, and thinking about their future,” he said.

A welcome change for a brighter future.

“Africa is different,” he said. “Sometimes you are in peace, sometimes no. They can sleep, and wake up and they are in peace. They can grow.”

Everyone in Tuesday’s meeting seemed on board with the proposal of this office, which would create three new positions: a director and two program managers.

There was some criticism. People were concerned that the office is looking to be too widespread and inclusive of everyone, instead of focusing its efforts on immigrants.

Others were concerned about a proposed budget that relied heavily on grant money.

The city council will see this proposal next, and will continue to work through and make changes.

Copyright 2016 WCSH


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