AUGUSTA — The Maine Republican Party issued a series of tweets late Thursday falsely blaming immigrants for outbreaks of infectious diseases that health officials say are actually caused by reduced vaccination rates among U.S. residents.

The tweets, which also target the city of Portland and immigrants seeking asylum there, were condemned by Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling and some members of the Republican Party.

One tweet read, “We need a serious talk not only about vaccination but migration. Portland, & many US cities, have homeless crises driven by asylum claims & a record number of migrants crossing the border from countries lacking vaccination causes certain diseases to return.”

Strimling, a Democrat, described the tweet as “disgusting.”

“Disgusting and straight out of the anti-immigrant playbook,” Strimling said in a text message to the Portland Press Herald. “For a century nativist forces have tried to paint our newest neighbors as bringing disease. Every time the claim has been proven false and exposes the messenger for what they truly are.”

Top Republicans in the Maine Senate issued a statement castigating the state party’s vice chairman, Nick Isgro.

“We, as a caucus and further as a party, absolutely do not approve of the comments made by Nick Isgro using the Maine GOP Twitter account,” said Senate Republicans’ communications director Krysta West in a statement. “We have reached out to the Chair of the party to ask that this matter be dealt with immediately.

“This is not a message that we as Republicans condone, and it is unfortunate that the party resources were misused in this way. We expect swift action and for those responsible to be held accountable.”

Initially, no Republican official would claim authorship of the tweets, but Isgro later tweeted from his personal Twitter account that “The tweets that people are speaking about concerning the link between vaccination rates, infectious disease, and open borders policies, came from me and not the GOP at large.”

Isgro, also the mayor of Waterville, said in an email Friday that out-of-state media have reported that as many as 2,200 migrants were being quarantined on the southern border for fear they have communicable diseases.

In the Maine GOP tweet, Isgro linked the issue to an ongoing debate in Maine over a bill that would eliminate philosophical or religious exemptions to state requirements that public school students be vaccinated against certain diseases. He said the U.S. should pause immigration from Central American countries that have declared disease-outbreak emergencies.

“However, extreme far-left elites and lobbyists – with support from Gov. Janet Mills – are reacting to this with demands for more vaccines … demands that our citizens simply relinquish their rights and ignore any risk of over-vaccination or vaccine injury just to please financial backers and interests who seek to keep wages low through uncontrolled migration,” he wrote.

Isgro said the state Republican Party “asked for a discussion about concerns at the forefront of Americans’ minds and hateful, politically motivated rhetoric cannot be allowed to poison the dialogue.”

The tweets came a day after hundreds of Mainers flooded the state capital for a public hearing on legislation to eliminate nonmedical exemptions to vaccination requirements for school children. Maine’s 4.8 percent voluntary opt-out rate in 2016-17 was seventh-worst in the nation, and more than double the national average of 1.8 percent.

Under current law, parents can check a box claiming a philosophic or religious objection to vaccination when they enroll their children in school.

Thirty-one public elementary schools reported that at least 15 percent of their kindergarten students were unvaccinated in the 2017-18 school year, the latest for which statistics were available, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has reported no links between immigrant populations in Maine and vaccination rates or disease outbreaks.

“There is no evidence or data to support these claims,” Maine CDC spokeswoman Emily Spencer said in an email. “Many factors are involved in the spread of disease, and often, there is not sufficient evidence to determine the driving force. Maine CDC continues to work with federal CDC to follow the most up-to-date prevention and control recommendations.”

Under federal immigration law, any foreign national who applies for an immigrant visa abroad or seeks permanent residency in the U.S. is required to receive vaccinations against mumps, measles, rubella, polio, tetanus, diphtheria, toxioids, pertussis, haemophilus, influenzae type B, hepatitis B and other “vaccine-preventable diseases recommended by the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices,” according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

The party’s tweets also drew fire from Lance Dutson, a Republican consultant who has worked on high-profile election campaigns, including for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and former Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers. Dutson, responding on Twitter, said the party’s official Twitter account did not speak for all Republicans in Maine.

Annie Clark, spokeswoman for Collins, said the senator “disagrees with the sentiments in these tweets, and she thinks we should take a more scientific approach to safeguard the health of our children.”

“Maine’s migration problem in recent years has been with our young people leaving the state,” she said. “We need to make clear that Maine is a great place to live, work, and raise a family, and that we welcome all people who come here legally and contribute.”

Dutson said Maine GOP Executive Director Jason Savage, Isgro and other party officials were “misguided,” and that their tactics were not helping Republican candidates in Maine.

“The current crop of staff that’s in that state party has been making a mess of it,” Dutson said. “You can’t keep losing elections over and over again and still be in charge.”

He said the party’s statement was simply untrue and not aligned with the values of many Maine conservatives.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: thisdog

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