Bowdoin Senior’s Immigration Study Contributes to State House Debate

Thomas Freeman ’17

Maine is one of the oldest states in the country, and with waves of workers set to retire in the coming years, there is worry that many jobs will be hard to fill. Some lawmakers are taking steps to try to curtail what they say is a looming economic crisis, and as they do so, they may make use of research done by Bowdoin senior Thomas Freeman.

State senator Roger Katz (R-Augusta) has introduced a bill this legislative session that aims to address Maine’s demographic crisis by attracting and retaining new Mainers. The bill proposes, among other actions, to boost funding for adult education, and to set up a state office that would oversee grants for local communities, helping them build programs to entice newcomers to settle within their borders.

This bill aligns with immigration-related work that Freeman did last summer, when he interned for Coastal Enterprises, Inc., in Brunswick with a Denning Fellowship. CEI is an investor and lender that is focused on rural economic development in Maine. Freeman’s final report for CEI was cited in testimony given to legislators at the state house earlier in May.

Freeman, a government major and sociology minor, had done previous academic research on immigration in Lewiston, in which he looked at whether the settlement of Somali immigrants in the city had led to changes in liberal or conservative voting patterns. Wanting to pursue more immigration-related research in Maine, he applied last summer to the McKeen Center for a Denning Fellowship, which provides $5,000 to Bowdoin students to pursue in-depth work on a social issue. Based on Freeman’s interest, the McKeen Center partnered him with CEI.

Building on another report it did on the economic impact of immigration in Portland, CEI asked Freeman to help it begin to extend this type of economic survey to the state’s rural areas. So last summer he conducted an overview of communities around Maine to see what kind of job opportunities and housing they had available, and whether they were open to the idea of non-white or foreign-born immigrants filling those jobs.

Besides analyzing census reports and other data, Freeman spent time talking with many town managers and economic development directors. (To get town officials on the line, he said it helped to mention that he grew up in Presque Isle, a city in Maine’s northern-most county, Aroostook.)

He found the communities that were most receptive to immigrants were the ones already seeing job vacancies going unfilled, particularly in Maine’s most rural counties: Washington and Aroostook. “They’re seeing the effects already,” he said, “and are open to immigration.”

In testimony that Freeman’s CEI supervisor, Carla Dickstein, gave at the state house in support of Katz’s bill, she cited work done by Freeman. She explained that CEI believes that Maine needs to “elevate the role of immigrants as part of Maine’s economic development strategy,” and that Northern and rural Maine are already realizing they need to attract newcomers to repopulate their communities and address workforce shortages.

After graduation, Freeman, who said immigration law has “emerged as something of an interest,” will work as a paralegal in New York City for a couple of years before attending law school.

thumb: