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Black History Month: Recognizing Black Immigrants and Refugees

By February 17, 2023No Comments

Rep. Ilhan Abdullahi Omar (D-MN)

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) is the fist American Refugee to serve in Congress

Photo Credit: Kristie Boyd: U.S. House Office of Photography

In honor of Black History Month, we continue to recognize the economic, cultural, political, and social contributions of influential black immigrants and refugees who’ve helped shape the vibrant tapestry of America. Today we spotlight U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN).

Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) is the first ever American refugee member of United States House of Representatives, where she serves her Minnesota constituents. As a child, Omar spent four years in a refugee camp before receiving asylum in the United States. She gained her U.S. Citizenship in 2000, at the age of 17.

Born in 1982 in Mogadishu, Somali, Omar was raised by her father and six older siblings after her mother died when she was just 2 years old. At 8 years old, civil war forced the family to flee the country. They lived in a Kenyan refugee camp for four years before they were granted American asylum and settled in Virginia. In 1997, the family relocated to Minneapolis, where her father drove a taxi and later worked for the post office.

Omar’s interest in politics was sparked as a teenager, when she would join her grandfather at local caucus meetings to serve as an interpreter. In 2016, she was elected to Minnesota’s House of Representatives, making her the highest-elected Somali-American public official in the United States and the first Somali-American legislator. In 2018, she was elected to represent Minnesota’s 5th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, making her the first American refugee to become a member of Congress, the first woman of color to represent Minnesota, and one of the first two Muslim women elected.

Omar’s arrival to the U.S. House resulted in the lifting of a 181-year-old ban on head coverings on the house floor, allowing her to wear a hijab while carrying out her responsibilities.