By: Deb Ibonwa and Dina Malual

General Assistance (GA) is a program that helps all low-income residents meet their basic needs such as rent, electricity, heat, food, and medicine. Immigrants can apply for GA if they are in the process of filing for immigration relief, even if they have not yet finished filing.

If you apply for GA and have not applied for immigration relief yet, you should not rush the immigration process. The immigration process is complex and we strongly recommend that you meet with a qualified immigration attorney to assist you. Taking time and consulting an attorney can give you your best chance of being successful in your case.

You should also beware of people who pretend to be able to assist you with your immigration case in order to steal money. You can learn more about avoiding fraud and scams here: https://ilapmaine.org/protect  

What if my GA application is denied?

Even though you are allowed to apply for GA if you haven’t filed yet for immigration relief, many immigrants who apply are getting denial notices. This is because GA is distributed by towns, and some towns are not familiar with specific rules that apply to immigrants. Often asylum seekers are being told that they need to have documentation from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or a lawyer to show that they have started the asylum application process. But this is not true. There is another way to show that you are in the process of applying for immigration relief: you can “self-attest” (prove in other ways) that you are working on applying for immigration relief. We explain more below.  

What you should know about self-attestation 

If you are not a U.S. citizen and you have not yet completed your immigration application, you have the right to self-attest in your GA application that you are “taking reasonable, good faith steps to apply for immigration relief.” Your local GA office must notify you of this right and can ask you to complete the affidavit located on Maine Department of Health and Human Services website. The form should also be available at all GA offices. 

Reasonable “good faith steps to apply for immigration relief” can include:

  • Sending a change of address form to the immigration court
  • Providing a receipt of a Master Calendar hearing notice from the immigration court 
  • Taking steps to find a lawyer or a legal organization 
  • Attending a relevant legal orientation or workshop
  • Working with a lawyer or legal organization
  • Receiving information on how to pursue immigration relief on your own
  • Collecting documents for your immigration case
  • Preparing immigration forms
  • Other reasonable steps that you can describe

Mainers who are pursuing immigration relief of any kind have rights like all other residents. This means that no one should be turned away or pressured to rush the immigration relief process when trying to apply for GA. It’s important that applicants and caseworkers are aware and prepared to advocate for these rights. 

Due to limited capacity and the number of people in need of legal help, not everyone will be able to obtain legal services from Maine Equal Justice (MEJ), Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project (ILAP), or similar local legal aid organizations, which is why we hope this information reaches as many people as possible. 

If you are unable to contact your local GA office to report violations or inaccessibility, call the toll free hotline at (800) 442-6003 or visit the Maine Department of Health and Human Services website at www.maine.gov/dhhs/ofi/programs-services/general-assistance.