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Hundreds March in Portland to Honor King, Protest LePage
01/17/2011   Reported By: Tom Porter

Hundreds people marched through downtown Portland today to celebrate Martin Luther King Day. They were also protesting Gov. Paul LePage's recent executive order, aimed at denying state services to undocumented immigrants. Opponents of the measure--which allows state officials to inquire about the immigration status of those who approach their agencies--are concerned that it makes Maine a less welcoming place for refugees and immigrants.

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Protesters converge this morning on the steps of Portland City Hall.

Around 400 Mainers braved freezing temperatures to march on Portland's City Hall Monday afternoon, one of hundreds events across the country honoring slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Thank you all for being here. My name is Dory Waxman, I'm a Portland City councillor and on behalf of everyone in the city of Portland we want to thank you all for being here to honor Dr. King today, to honor our friends and neighbors in Arizona and send our love and our thoughts and prayers to all of them."

But it was events closer to home that were on most people's minds at this gathering, organized by the Maine branch of the NAACP.

"On his first day in office Gov. LePage rescinded an executive order which effectively made it OK and allowed state officials to ask for documentation of anyone that approaches their agencies for services," said Brianna Twofoot, of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, to boos from the crowd. "His first action as governor sends an unwelcoming message to immigrant and refugee communities in Maine.

"Gov. LePage's executive order is not targeting anyone, other than to make the case that people who come to Maine for assistance need to be legal and lawful residents of Maine," says Dan Demeritt, press spokesman for Gov. LePage.

The executive order, Demeritt says, was signed to ensure that the state complies with federal law. It is also, he adds, a question of resources. "We just can't afford to be a state where people without proper documentation can receive sanctuary and qualify for programs," he says.

"It's not right to ask for documentation," said Portland resident Eda Trejo, an immigrant from El Salvador who works with women in Maine's Spanish-speaking community. Trejo told the crowd she was worried that the new state policy could result in some of Maine's neediest people being neglected.

"We are a community here and there's a lot of people that need support," she said. "It doesn't matter what the color is, it doesn't matter language we speak, we got the right for freedom--not scared, not intimidation from anybody." The crowd cheered.

LePage and the NAACP have been at loggerheads over the weekend following controversial remarks made by the governor on Friday. In responding to the organization's complaints over LePage's decision to decline an invitation to the group's annual MLK dinner Sunday night, the governor said the NAACP could kiss his butt.

Speaker Eric Smith, of the Maine Council of Churches had this to say about that. "I believe Dr. King would have a message for us and a message for anyone who would dismiss us in such a manner: 'Turn the other cheek.'"

Photo by Tom Porter.



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