Donal Trump’s victory triggers anxiety among Minnesota Somalis, other immigrants

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Mohamed Mohamed stayed up past 3 on Wednesday morning, tracking election results and hashing them out with friends. The following morning, the recent high school graduate grilled the instructor in a college prep class he takes in St. Paul: Would President-elect Donald Trump deport him to Somalia, two years after he arrived in Minnesota from an Ethiopian refugee camp?

“It’s very scary for people,” he said.

For members of Minnesota’s Somali and other immigrant communities, Trump’s election spurred anxiety — even as some said they were heartened by his speech early Wednesday calling for unity. Trump’s victory came just days after a Twin Cities rally at which he suggested Somali refugees have put a strain the state, and vowed again to halt resettlements from parts of the world grappling with terrorism. It coincided with the election to the Minnesota House of Ilhan Omar, the first Somali-American legislator in the United States.

Supporters of Trump’s stance on immigration and resettlement said the close presidential race in Minnesota shows the president-elect’s positions resonate with many of the state’s voters. Trump had an especially strong showing in places like Stearns County, which have experienced recent demographic changes and tensions over the issue of new arrivals.

Trump has also vowed to repeal an Obama administration program that gave work permits and deportation reprieves to people brought to the United States as children; nearly 6,000 benefited from the program in Minnesota. He promised to step up deportations of immigrants living here illegally, particularly those with criminal convictions.

During his recent visit, Trump echoed comments he made during a Maine rally this past summer singling out Minnesota’s Somali refugees. He has invoked a recent stabbing attack on shoppers at a St. Cloud mall and the case of nine Minneapolis men convicted in a plot to join ISIL as evidence of inadequate refugee vetting — even though the Somali-Americans involved grew up in the United States. Jaylani Hussein, the head of CAIR-Minnesota, said members of the Somali and other Muslim communities fear Trump will act on policy proposals he has touted on the campaign trail, including more intense surveillance of these communities. Some worry that halting refugee resettlements from the Middle East and East Africa might prevent them from bringing over family members through the refugee family reunification program.

Hussein said he worries Trump’s victory gives license to those out to stigmatize Muslim immigrant communities. But Hussein noted Trump struck a different tone during his victory speech and did not double down on some of his more controversial positions.

“As much as we feel a little besieged,” Hussein said, “we are optimistic that the rhetoric will die down.”

Jane Graupman, the executive director of the International Institute of Minnesota, one of the state’s refugee resettlement agencies, says she feels uncertainty about the direction of the federal resettlement program under Trump. The state, one of the nation’s resettlement hubs, has welcomed more than 20,000 refugees in the past decade.

She said agencies have to redouble their efforts to address public concerns about refugee vetting and other issues. Meanwhile, they have to allay the fears of recently resettled refugees such as Mohamed, a client at the institute, that they will be sent home — something Trump has not suggested but some immigrants have read into his criticism of resettling Somali and Syrian refugees.

Linda Huhn, a Twin Cities member of NumbersUSA, an advocacy group that supports reducing immigration, says pundits underestimated the resonance of Trump’s positions on the issue. Huhn said she didn’t support Trump, but she agrees with many of his positions on immigration, including a pledge to take a harder line on discouraging illegal immigration. She echoed a position that has gained traction with critics of U.S. resettlement policies: that supporting Middle Eastern and other refugees in countries near where they lived costs much less and makes it easier for them to adjust than resettling them in the United States.

“Nobody in the press talks about how expensive immigration is,” she said. “Right now, our country is overwhelmed by immigration.”

Refugee reactions

At a Starbucks in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, customers voiced a range of emotions on Wednesday. Ali Jama, a father of four who lives in Apple Valley, said that he was scared after Trump’s election and kept his children home from school.

“I am moving next week to Canada or Africa,” Jama said. “I am afraid. My children are afraid. Trump is threatening our religion and our ethnicity. It’s not possible that Trump won.”

Jama said that Trump’s victory speech was “good,” but not enough to change his moving plan.

Not all decried Trump’s election. Duale Ali voted for Trump because of his conservative beliefs. He said he second-guessed his decision until Trump took the stage to declare victory and struck a conciliatory tone.

“I don’t think deeply that he’s a bad guy,” said Mahad Indhodeero, a once-famous Somali singer turned legal assistant, who voted for Clinton. “The future of Somalis doesn’t depend on Trump. Your future depends on you.”

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