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Somali-Minnesotans wonder about their welcome after Trump's speech

Faiza Mahamud and Jessie Van Berkel, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in News & Features

MINNEAPOLIS -- Abubakar Abdi skipped his usual after-work stop to visit friends at the local Somali mall on Thursday, heading to his Minneapolis home instead to catch President Donald Trump's speech.

As he watched, the 22-year-old IT specialist said he was taken aback by the loud boos at the packed campaign rally when Trump mentioned Somalis.

"As you know, for many years, leaders in Washington brought large numbers of refugees to your state from Somalia without considering the impact on schools and communities and taxpayers," Trump said at the rally. "I promise you that as president, I would give local communities a greater say in refugee policy and put in place enhanced vetting and responsible immigration control, and I've done that since coming into office."

Abdi, born and raised in Minnesota, said the president's words and the crowd's reaction left him wondering: "What if my former classmates were among the ones booing? What if it was my former teachers booing?"

"I didn't know we were hated like that," he said. "Donald Trump is one man, but what scares me is the amount of support he has."

Minnesota is home to the nation's largest Somali population, numbering 57,000 in the latest census, though the current number is believed to be higher. Trump's remarks about refugee resettlement and about U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, whom he called "a disgrace to our country" during his speech, stung and angered many Somali-Minnesotans, with some using words such as "dangerous," "disgusting," and "racist."

 

The negative portrayal of people of Somali descent is making it harder for some to go about their lives without fear, and they want answers from Minnesota Republican leaders about whether they agreed with Trump's comments.

On Friday, the state's GOP leaders largely stood behind Trump.

"He is not against immigrants, he is not against refugees coming into this country," said Minnesota Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan, who said she supports Trump's comment in Thursday's speech about giving cities and states greater say over refugee resettlement.

"He is just simply saying that he understands there are some challenges, especially that Minnesota has had, around ... taking in a significant number of refugees but not thinking about the impacts -- and how it impacts (things) like schools, education, jobs, housing."

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