Portland: Donald Trump's characterization of Somalis as dangerous and a drag on resources could undo years of work that they have done to establish themselves in the country's whitest state, Somali residents said.
Trump told a packed audience in Portland on Thursday that Maine is a "major destination" for Somali refugees and that they're coming from some of the "most dangerous" places. All told, about 10,000 Somalis lives in Portland and Lewiston, Maine's largest cities.
The Somali Community Center of Maine said the Republican presidential candidate's remarks were a setback for immigrants who have worked hard to become part of the state's fabric over the past two decades.
"It is damaging to the psyche of our youth to hear a major party presidential nominee insult our culture and religion, especially while standing next to the governor of our state," the community center said in a statement.
"We condemn his name calling, scapegoating and the lies perpetrated by his campaign."
Republican Gov Paul LePage, who supports Trump and has sparred with immigrant groups in the past, introduced Trump at Thursday's events. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Somalis began coming to Maine in the 1990s as part of a refugee resettlement effort in Portland. A housing shortage caused some to look to Lewiston, a former mill town 35 miles to the north, where apartments were cheaper and easier to come by.
Integration was not without challenges. Laurier Raymond, then Lewiston's mayor, told Somalis to stop relocating to the city in 2002 because of what he called a strain on social services.
A few years later, someone rolled a frozen pig's head into a mosque, drawing widespread condemnation from the community and eventually criminal charges.
These days, Somalis and immigrants from other African communities attend public schools and run local businesses. Portland school Superintendent Xavier Botana called the district's Somali students "a shining example" of the strength of diversity.
It's common in both cities to see hijab-clad mothers shepherding children around playgrounds, something no one would have fathomed decades ago in the state that still has the lowest percentage of non-whites in the US.
Other Somali communities have grown in places such as Minnesota and Columbus, Ohio.
Young men in Minnesota's Somali community have been targeted by terror recruiters in recent years, and three Somali men who were accused of plotting to go to Syria to join the Islamic State group were convicted in June of conspiracy.