The group, with representatives from a variety of immigrant organizations, will educate newcomers about civic involvement.
Leaders of Maine’s immigrant community have created a nonprofit to encourage new residents to vote and make their voices heard at the State House in Augusta.
The New Mainers Alliance announced its launch Thursday during a news conference at Portland City Hall.
Its members include representatives from the Iraqi, Congolese, Sudanese, South Sudanese, Somali and other immigrant communities in Maine. If successful, the group’s leaders said the New Mainers Alliance will help organize the civic work of those groups under one umbrella.
“Integrating our community into the society starts by a civic engagement process that explains the legal tools available in the system to get involved and to have a voice,” said Elmuatz Abdelrahim, one of the group’s officers.
The first priority for the New Mainers Alliance is educating immigrants about getting involved in civic processes. The group is planning fundraisers and a get-out-the-vote campaign leading up to this fall’s election.
“A community that’s actively engaged in the civic process, including voting, is a stronger community, a healthy community,” said Mahmoud Hassan, the president of the Somali Community Center of Maine and one of the founders of the New Mainers Alliance. “It’s an American tradition, and we should cherish that tradition as a cornerstone of our American democracy, and we should bring new Mainers to fully participate and fully understand that American tradition for a stronger and more prosperous and more equitable society for all of us.”
The group has also incorporated as a 501(c)4, a type of nonprofit social welfare organization that can engage in lobbying, which the New Mainers Alliance plans to pursue.
“We can be able to lobby and bring our issues to the steps of the Capitol and to the City Council and to the places where decisions are being made,” Abdelrahim said.
Abdifatah Ahmed said he and the group’s other founders have been meeting with local and state officials to talk about their goals.
“As members and leaders of the new Mainers community, we understand the urgent needs of the community,” he said. “Recent biased statements against immigrants and minorities in the national and state political discourse could create an atmosphere of uncertainty and anxiety. The New Mainers Alliance will work hard to ensure that such feelings do not cause suppression in voting among immigrants and minorities.”
Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling said he would encourage the New Mainers Alliance to attend city council meetings, testify about pending legislation and contact their councilors to voice their opinions.
“I think any group that’s trying to get more engaged politically is a good thing,” Strimling said. “We want our newest residents to be as engaged in the political process as those who have lived here for a long time.”
Last year, Abdelrahim and Ahmed also formed a political action committee with many of the same goals to represent new Mainers. According to its financial reports, the New Mainers PAC has spent a little more than $9,000 in payments to people who are helping new voters. The two groups are separate from each other, though many of the same people are involved in both.
Source: The Press Herald