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Politics

Trump’s Lewiston Supporters Perplexed by Backlash Over Travel Ban

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Evan Vucci
/
Associated Press
President Donald Trump speaks during the National Prayer Breakfast, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017, in Washington.

President Donald Trump’s controversial order to ban travel from seven Muslim majority countries has sparked protests in Maine and across the country. But Trump’s ban hasn’t diminished his support among some voters in Lewiston, A Historically Democratic stronghold that has become a resettlement area for Somali immigrants.

It only takes a short walk down snowy, wet Lisbon Street to experience the culture clash that has shaped Lewiston politics in recent years.

On a recent morning, a group of Somali men is busy unloading supply truck and carrying boxes into one of the street’s halal markets. Nearby, Somali women converse as they leave their apartment.

And then, a young white woman walks by, commenting on the legal status of the Somalis to her male companion.

Around the corner from this crossroad of cultural change at Simones’ Hot Dog Stand, it’s hot dog Wednesday. That means $1 hot dogs. The place is bustling with hungry customers — and Trump supporters.

“I think he’s doing a lot,” says Jim Nelson. “Every day I’m turning on CNN to see what he did and who he pissed off.”

Nelson says he voted for Trump and he’s happy he did. He says doesn’t always like how the president acts, but that Trump is quickly fulfilling campaign promises.

That includes the president’s recent travel ban, which affects immigrants from seven countries, including Somalia.

“This country was made on immigrants. I mean, that’s exactly why the United States exists. We’re a melting pot. We can’t lose sight of that,” Nelson says.

But he says he’s truly mystified by the local protests sparked by Trump’s order.

“On the front page of yesterday’s paper you got this little girl crying, and she’s a Somalian (sic) and she can’t see her grandmother, and ‘Oh, my God.’ You know, she can’t see her grandmother for six months. What about the people that got blown up down in Florida? What about those people? They can’t ever see their people again.” Nelson says.

Trump made four campaign stops to Maine in an attempt to swipe one of its four electoral votes.

He succeeded here by deploying rhetoric about the loss of manufacturing jobs. But he also stoked a simmering belief among some that Maine’s newest immigrants are different from the mostly white ones that preceded them.

He asserted, without evidence, that Somali resettlement areas are enclaves for terrorist recruiting efforts. He also asserted that Somali immigrants are draining public assistance programs — a touchy subject in Lewiston, which spent roughly half of its temporary assistance budget on asyum seekers last year.

Trump’s order could freeze the influx of asylum seekers, at least in the short term, and he has the support of local hairdresser Marie LeBlanc.

“I wouldn’t want to be stopped, but I think it’s just to stop these terrorists from coming in. It’s just a slowdown, it’s not completely cutting them off, you know,” she says.

Like many in Lewiston, LeBlanc’s family immigrated from Canada. She says the new arrivals benefit from generous public assistance programs unavailable to her relatives. And she’s also anxious about how the newcomers affect the city.

“We’re not populating a lot anymore. They are. And that’s right, I mean, and they’re going to be a stronger force in years to come,” she says.

“Well, he’s doing what he said he’s going to do,” says Al Donovan, who owns a used car dealership in town.

He says his customers have a spring in their step, excited about a businessman in the White House. He says Trump spoke to the silent majority, empowering people who had been forgotten and shamed from talking about their fears and concerns.

And the protesters, he says, should start accepting the results of the election.

“The unfortunate part is you have some adult children on the Democratic side that doesn’t understand it’s time to work with the president and not against him. You know, give him a chance. They’re not giving it to him,” Donovan says.

And even some Lewiston residents who didn’t vote for Trump, and find him to be offensive and divisive, are willing to see what he can do.

“I say give him a chance,” says Keith Sabine, 45.

Sabine says he voted for the first time last year, and it wasn’t for Donald Trump.

“I was totally against him before but now, I don’t know. I’ve got an open mind now,” Donovan says.

In the meantime, the immigration issue is expected to stay front and center here, regardless of Trump’s travel ban. Mayor Bob Macdonald has sounded the alarm about a new spike in asylum seekers and their effect on the city’s welfare budget.