When Abdi Nor Iftin came to the United States in 2014, he had planned to petition for a green card for his mother. She still lives in their native Somalia, where civil war constantly puts her life at risk. Her son initially wanted to bring her to safety in his new home in Portland.

Now he is not so sure.

“Not under Trump,” Nor Iftin said.

Nor Iftin, 31, came to Maine through the highly competitive United States Diversity Visa Lottery. That program and other protections for immigrants were the focus of conversation in the Oval Office on Thursday when President Trump reportedly described some developing nations as “shithole countries.”

Those explosive remarks stalled talks on a bipartisan immigration deal and set off criticism across the globe. Mainers – members of Congress, advocates and immigrants like Nor Iftin – were among those who condemned the president’s words Friday.

“To me, it’s not an insult,” Nor Iftin said. “It’s more than that. It’s a threat.”


The Washington Post reported the president grew frustrated Thursday during a meeting when senators proposed a broad immigration package, which was meant to address border security as well as protections for young immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children. The discussion also covered the visa lottery program, which benefits some African countries, and temporary protected status given to immigrants from certain nations, including El Salvador and Haiti.

Trump questioned why the United States would allow people from those countries, using vulgar language. He then suggested instead bringing more people from countries such as Norway, whose prime minister he met with Wednesday.

Trump disputed the reports in a tweet Friday morning, although he did not directly deny using the word. But Sen. Richard J. Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois who attended the meeting, said publicly Friday that Trump’s apparent denial was false and that he repeatedly used the phrase.


Maine’s congressional delegation responded quickly to the news.

In a tweet Friday morning, Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins called the president’s language “highly inappropriate.”


“These comments are highly inappropriate & out of bounds and could hurt efforts for a bipartisan immigration agreement,” she wrote. “The President should not denigrate other countries.”

U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, spoke out about the news Thursday.

“Truly regrettable and inconsistent with my understanding of what America is all about,” he said.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District described the president’s comments as “racist” in her own statement Friday.

“President Trump’s racist comments about immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and countries in Africa are absolutely sickening, even for him,” her statement said. “It’s frightening to have someone in the White House with this kind of ignorance and lack of compassion. He knows absolutely nothing about these people – the pain they’ve faced, their harrowing journeys, or their commitment to our country, much less the cultural vibrancy of the countries they came from. His words are slanderous to our legacy as a nation of immigrants.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of the 2nd District also criticized the president’s words, but in more mild terms. He did not directly condemn the language.


“I am focused on policy. When it comes to immigration reform and securing our borders, we have urgent and serious needs to address and many critical policies to debate. The reported comments are not helpful.”


Nor Iftin said he learned about the president’s words on social media.

“My reaction was just, I buried my head in my hands,” he said.

The president’s words felt like an attack not only on his country, but also on his character. Since coming to Maine, Nor Iftin said he has been working as an interpretor and studying political science at the University of Southern Maine. He sends money to his family to help pay for rent and utilities.

“I’m working so hard to earn money and support my family,” Nor Iftin said. “The message that he sends feels like he is stereotyping who we are.”


Nor Iftin has a green card, which gives him legal permanent residence in the United States. Once he has lived here for five years, he will be allowed to apply for citizenship. Still, Trump’s words inspired fear that his dream could be taken away with a tweet.

“My mom calls and says, ‘Is everything OK?'” Nor Iftin said. “She’s the one in a civil war. I never thought I would be this scared.”

Along with the visa lottery, a bipartisan immigration deal could address temporary protected status, which provides humanitarian relief for people whose countries of origin are hit with natural disasters or other emergencies.

When a pair of earthquakes devastated El Salvador in 2001, the United States granted temporary protected status to nearly 200,000 Salvadorans living in the United States. Previous administrations have extended that designation, but the Trump administration announced Monday they would need to leave by 2019 or face deportation. That decision has created fear and uncertainty for immigrants who have lived and worked legally in the United States for more than 17 years.

To Sister Patricia Pora, director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Trump’s words were another blow.

“I’ve been to these countries, and the hospitality of the people despite the poverty that they live in is incredible,” Pora said. “It makes me angry.”



Nate Nickerson read about the president’s comments on a computer screen in Haiti.

Nickerson is the executive director of Konbit Sante in Falmouth, a nonprofit that partners with health care providers in Cap-Haitien, a city in the northern section of the country. He splits his time between Maine and Haiti.

Friday was the eighth anniversary of the 2010 earthquake that killed nearly a quarter-million people in Haiti. That disaster prompted the United States to grant temporary protected status to nearly 60,000 Haitians in the United States, because the country was too dangerous for them to return. The Trump administration has also ended that program.

Nickerson spent Friday morning in a meeting with a dozen young and enthusiastic Haitian volunteers who will be working at the local hospital.

“There’s so much that seems like it shouldn’t have to be said in terms of defending the integrity of the Haitian people,” Nickerson said.


He said Trump’s words were explicitly racist, as the president isolated people of color in comparison with white Europeans.

“There are definitely challenges with the system here, but it was a sweeping comment about people,” Nickerson said.

The Rev. Kenneth Lewis, pastor of Green Memorial AME Zion Church in Portland, said he wasn’t surprised when he read about Trump’s meeting.

“It is an unmasking of what he really is, which is a racist,” Lewis said.

Lewis said he was more shocked by lawmakers who did not speak up about the incident and people who continued to defend the president. People in Portland should continue to work toward social justice in immigration, health care and education, he said.

“I think the reality is we have less of a leader, but I don’t think we should expect less from our leaders,” Lewis said.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:


Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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