American Voices: Midwest voters on Trump, immigration and a brighter future

In the third of our series of short films, ITV News asks Americans how they are feeling ahead of the US presidential election.

Have President Trump's immigration policies made the country toxic? Is the economy the most important topic? Will Joe Biden offer a more united future for America?

Produced and written by ITV News US Producer Sophie Alexander

The face of St Cloud Minnesota has undeniably changed in the last 10 years.

What was once a predominantly white American city full of churches and diners is now a more diverse place with mosques and Halal grocery stores due to the Somali refugees who resettled there.

When camera operator Dickon Mager and I arrived there we were prepared to see a city divided by religion, race and politics.

What we found was a divided city but one attempting to heal and welcome its new residents.

We met Ekram Elmoge, 21, at the University of St Cloud, where she graduated this summer with a degree in social sciences and teaching. Ekram is now studying for a Masters degree in higher education alongside working to help Somali families in the area.

What is astounding on meeting Ekram is the calm manner she talks about her circumstances. Born into the Melkadida refugee camp on the border of Somalia and Ethiopia, Ekram did not attend school before she was 10 years old.

Her mother, a single parent raised her and her two older sisters and younger brother alone in a camp of thousands with dubious sanitation and little hope of getting out.

"My family fled from a civil war in Somalia, then they get relocated in the border of Somalia / Ethiopia, a refugee camp that is located in more Somalia, I guess," Ms Elmoge explains.

After spending the first 16 years of her life in the camp, Ekram and her family finally got their status as political refugees and resettled in St Cloud. She did not speak a word of English, had never watched a television and had no idea what ‘the internet or Google was’.

Going to school was not an option as Ekram had to help pay the bills and the rent. She got a phone and downloaded an app to help her learn English and within a year was fluent and studying at school.

Despite a start in life that none of us can imagine, Ekram is full of positivity and hope. It’s only when she starts speaking about the comments towards her Hijab, the suspicious looks and people on the street telling her to ‘go back home’ her face clouds.

‘The American dream is not for me, it is for a white person. Donald Trump’s American dream is not for people of colour,’ she told ITV News.

'I was not surprised at all because I previously heard and learnt a lot about how Donald Trump is a guy who is always going to promote hate than unite in this country'

Across town we meet with Mike Conway at his home on the outskirts of Saint Cloud. Mike is a long-time resident of the city, a father, and a grandfather and hugely welcoming to us.

He acknowledges that when the Somali refugees first began to move to St Cloud there were tensions.

"Twenty to 30 thousand people coming into an area is a big percentage and that is not just a drop in the bucket and it’s going to affect the whole area,’ he said. ‘And it’s noticeable, people notice things are different and both peoples need to figure out how to make that work.’

Mike drove us around Saint Cloud, stopping to show us the number of churches (mostly Catholic) and also the Islamic centres and mosques.

‘Some people had a problem with there being two mosques across the street from each other,’ he said. ‘But there are two churches across the street from each other nearby so what’s the problem?’

Mike will be voting for President Trump in the election, largely due to the upturn in the economy prior to the Covid pandemic.

Ekram will be voting for Vice President Biden and Kamala Harris. Her uncle was unable to claim status as a political refugee when President Trump implemented the travel ban that mostly affected Muslims and is stuck in the camp in Somalia.

Ekram has hope for the generation of Somali kids being born in St Cloud. Mike says when he drives past the schools and sees all the children throwing a ball about together, he also feels hopeful.

"The kids are playing with whomever, whether they have a Hijab or not it doesn't matter it's just their friend. Sometimes it's the adults that mess it up for the kids. And for people being negatively targeted... I apologise for that."

The Somali population who have resettled in Saint Cloud are just trying to get by. They want their kids to go to school to learn and get good jobs. They want to pay the bills and prosper.

The same could be said for every white resident in St Cloud, in America even. The difference is, Ekram and other Somali refugees like her also want to walk down the street without being heckled and told to ‘go home’ when their home is right here.