On Aug. 4, Donald Trump visited Portland. Speaking at Merrill Auditorium, where my Portland High School graduation had been held more than a decade ago, Trump told a crowd of supporters and protesters that Somalis and other refugees come from some of the most dangerous places in the world, implying that Mainers should fear them and be worried about their neighbors who had fled danger zones.

He was at least partly right. Yes, all refugees, by definition, flee from dangerous regions of the world. That’s actually the very criterion that the U.N. Refugee Agency uses to determine who is qualified to be resettled as a refugee.

But describing someone as “dangerous” simply because they came from an unsafe part of the world is not only bigoted, but also factually incorrect. It is the same as suggesting that people who are displaced by forest fires are likely to be arsonists, or that victims of sex trafficking are likely to be rapists. It is a contradiction in terms. Few people know the dangers and the effects of wars and mayhem more than refugees.

Most Mainers already know more about their refugee neighbors than Trump can ever teach them, but let me quickly reintroduce who we are, where we came from and what we have done and continue to do in Maine to contribute to the economy, culture and the safety and well-being of the people of the United States in general, and Mainers in particular.

Most of us endured years of uncertainties and took treacherous journeys. We then had to go through a cumbersome resettlement process, scrutinized thoroughly by U.S. immigration authorities before we could set foot in this country. My family were among the thousands of Somali refugees who arrived in Maine during the past two decades or so.

But it was not only Somalis who arrived in Maine. Refugees came from Vietnam, Honduras, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, Congo, Burma and Ethiopia, just to name a few. My classmates at Portland High resembled a microcosm of the world. We had people from Taiwan to El Salvador, from Afghanistan to the Congo, Cambodia to Haiti and everywhere in between.


For the most part we got along not only with each other, but with the citizens of Maine as well. Despite cultural barriers and economic hardships, refugees have thrived. Almost everyone I knew had an after-school part-time job to contribute to their families and be productive members of society.

I worked at Old Country Buffet as a dishwasher, volunteered at Ronald McDonald House and still found time to do my homework and graduate with high grades from Portland High School, which earned me admission to all the Maine public universities where I applied, despite my coming to Portland as a high school freshman with no English language proficiency.

I was hardly an exceptional student, though. It is normal that people who had previously endured hardships work hard and take advantage of any opportunity they can get in order to lift their families out of poverty. Many of my friends from similar backgrounds pursued higher education. Some started businesses or joined the military, while others became professionals in various fields.

While pursuing my studies at the University of Maine, where I earned both of my degrees, I managed to remain connected to the Portland community in summers and other school breaks, serving as a certified security officer for Securitas USA, a private security company. I worked in highly sensitive and secure facilities including Portland Ocean Terminal, Portland International Jetport, Maine Medical Center, Bowdoin College, Oxford Plains Speedway and at dams in the Westbrook area.

Lastly, I want to highlight the good reception and hospitality refugees have received from their fellow Mainers. For nearly six years, I had the privilege to travel throughout Maine and bring stories of refugees to all corners of Maine as a member of the Somali Narrative Project, an interdisciplinary collaborative project established by the University of Maine in 2004, which successfully documented the experiences of Somali immigrants in Maine. From Camden to Farmington, Lewiston to Bangor, we were welcomed by enthusiastic audiences who were eager to hear our stories with passion and compassion.

I had to relocate to Oregon for my work, but Maine still remains home for me. It is where my mother is buried. It is where I became a U.S. citizen and where I received all my education.

My wife, a Mainer of Franco heritage, and I bring our two Oregon-born children to Maine regularly to visit with family and friends. And despite the fears and myths spread by Donald Trump and others like him, I am convinced that Maine will continue to lead the nation in welcoming immigrants.


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