PORTLAND — Republican Donald Trump has a new target when it comes to immigrants: Somalis.
Trump told an audience Thursday at packed Merrill Auditorium in Portland that Maine is a “major destination” for Somali refugees and that they’re coming from some of the “most dangerous places.” He said the nation’s acceptance of refugees is a problem that must stop.
He was interrupted several times by protesters.
Outside, Portland teacher Laura Nichols said she fears for her Somali students because of the current political atmosphere. As for Trump, she said he’s “unstable.”
Trump previously held rallies in Portland and Bangor this year.
The presidential candidate hopes to win at least one, and maybe more, electoral votes in Maine, one of only two states to divide the votes.
In Lewiston and Portland, where large numbers of Somali immigrants reside, reaction was swift in response to the story, although not everyone agreed about whether Trump was right or wrong in his assessment.
“Yes, they’re coming from dangerous places,” Patricia Washburn, of Portland, wrote on Facebook, “that’s why they’re leaving! Judge them on what they do here — in many cases, raising families, going to school, starting businesses, learning English, practicing their religion in peace, and working.”
“Maine is a major destination for Somali refugees, some of whom have ties to ISIS,” wrote Heather Chapin, of Lewiston. “And It’s incredibly heartbreaking that we keep taking in more of them when many of our veterans who fought for our freedom are living on the street.”
Trump’s speech quickly drew condemnation from two African-born officials in Portland.
“It’s very un-American to turn people against one another to win a seat,” said Abdullahi Ahmed, a Somali assistant principal at Deering High School who first came to America as a refugee. He called Trump’s words “a very scary narrative” that many fear “will lead to more trouble for us as a community.”
“Rhetoric like that is dangerous,” said Pious Ali, a Portland Board of Education member and a Muslim from Ghana. “It divides our communities, both here and nationwide. This country is built based on bringing people from diverse backgrounds, and African immigrants are not any different than people from anywhere else.”
But the message — a localized version of the acceptance speech Trump gave at the Republican National Convention in July — landed with many of his supporters, including Bert Corrigan of Smithfield, who said he has friends in Lewiston and that crime has skyrocketed there.
According to state data, however, the city’s crime rate fell by more than 23 percent between 2005 and 2014. Somali immigrants began to arrive in 2001.
Corrigan said he’s “for people coming to America,” but not when it affects municipal budgets, crime and schools and when immigrants “can’t assimilate” into American culture.
“I don’t know if we learned from that, because the Democratic administration is pushing for more of the same,” he said.