PORTLAND — After 20 years in Maine, Mahmoud Hassan has wearied of suspicions cast against Somali immigrants.
“It feels weird, it feels ridiculous, but then again, I am not surprised,” Hassan said Aug. 5 about comments by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump suggesting Somalis are a threat to public safety.
As president of the Somali Community Center of Maine, Hassan called for a public response to Trump’s words that grew into an Aug. 5 City Hall rally attended by more than 300 people.
“I don’t think there is a misunderstanding,” Hassan said of Trump. “I think there is political opportunism.”
Following his comments at an Aug. 4 Merrill Auditorium rally about threats posed by immigrants domestically and globally, Trump turned his attention to Maine.
“We’ve just seen many, many crimes, getting worse all the time. And as Maine knows, (this is) a major destination for Somali refugees. Am I right?” he asked a crowd that frequently responded with chants of “build a wall.”
“We admit hundreds of thousands into Maine and other places in the United States, hundreds of thousands of refugees, and they are coming from among the most dangerous countries and territories anywhere in the world, a practice which has to stop,” Trump said.
The next day, as more than 200 people lined the City Hall steps behind him, some waving copies of the Constitution, Hassan left most of the talking to Somalis who have assimilated in Maine and had little use for insinuations made the day before.
“Shame on you, you are running for the highest office in the land and spreading hate,” Deering High School Assistant Principal Abdullahi Ahmed said.
Ahmed was also upset Trump’s comments were not rebutted by Gov. Paul LePage, who introduced Trump with an eight-minute speech at the Aug. 4 rally.
“I want him to say Donald Trump lied about the Somali community in Maine,” Ahmed said.
South Portland resident Deqa Dhalac was also distressed by LePage’s silence and reaffirmed Somalis are a part of Maine’s fabric.
“We care about our community, and we are here to stay,” she said. “(Trump) likes to smear for political gain.”
Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who on Monday announced she would not vote for the GOP presidential candidate, spoke against Trump’s words in a statement read by Lewiston resident Abdifatah Ahmed.
“Mr. Trump’s statements disparaging immigrants who have come to this country legally are particularly unhelpful,” Collins said. “Maine has developed a reputation as being a state that is welcoming to people from around the globe. That is a reputation I am proud of and hope will continue in the future.”
Abdifatah Ahmed then added his own thoughts, calling Trump “very ignorant. I love Maine, I have five children born in Portland.”
Kathy Mockler, a spokeswoman for Catholic Charities of Maine, which provides refugee resettlement services, said the agency would not comment on statements made in political campaigns.
The agency has resettled an estimated 9,000 people since 1975, and provided support services to about 20,000 other immigrants. In all, refugees and immigrants from about 30 nations have been served.
According to the agency website, since 2010, intakes of refugees, including those who have moved to Maine from another domestic location as secondary refugees, have ranged from about 400-600 annually. Last year, Catholic Charities handled 590 intakes.
Somali immigrants are the most common of the new Mainers, with more than 1,500 served in the last six years. In 2015, Catholic Charities worked with 442 newly arrived refugees. Of those, 192 arrived from Somalia and 215 from Iraq.
Mayor Ethan Strimling said Trump’s ignorance of the Constitution showed when he spoke, and the mayor embraced those who were offended by the candidate’s remarks.
“You are welcomed and cherished here. We need you here, so thank you for being here,” he said.
School Superintendent Xavier Botana also praised the Somali community in an Aug. 5 press release.
“Our diverse students are one of our many assets. We are a better school system because of our diversity,” Botana said. “Our Somali students and their families are a shining example of this strength. As our largest and one of our oldest language communities, we have seen tremendous success stories in our classrooms, academic activities and athletic venues.”
Abdullahi Ahmed said the community’s message will be heard again in November, at the ballot box.
“We will stay here, and we will vote,” he said.
Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling applauds, left, as Abdifatah Ahmed holds a copy of the U.S. Constitution after speaking at a rally Aug. 5 outside Portland City Hall in response to Aug. 4 comments by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump about Somalis in Maine.