Ilhan Omar

Ilhan Omar

Ilhan Abdullahi Omar

Ilhan Abdullahi Omar

Ilhan Abdullahi Omar (born October 4, 1982) is an American politician serving as the U.S. representative for Minnesota's 5th congressional district since 2019. She is a member of the Democratic Party.[6] Before her election to Congress, Omar served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 2017 to 2019, representing part of Minneapolis. Her congressional district includes all of Minneapolis and some of its first-ring suburbs.

Omar serves as deputy chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and has advocated for a $15 minimum wage, universal healthcare, student loan debt forgiveness, the protection of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). A frequent critic of Israel, Omar supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and has denounced Israel's settlement policies and military campaigns in the occupied Palestinian territories, as well as what she describes as the influence of pro-Israel lobbies in American politics.[7][8][9] In February 2023, the Republican-controlled House voted to remove Omar from her seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, citing past comments she had made about Israel and concerns over her objectivity.[10]

Omar is the first Somali American in the United States Congress and the first woman of color to represent Minnesota. She is also one of the first two Muslim women (along with Rashida Tlaib) to serve in Congress.[11][12] She has been the target of several death threats, as well as derogatory comments by political opponents, including Donald Trump, as a result of her background.[13][14]

Early life and education

Omar was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, on October 4, 1982,[15][16] and spent her early years in Baidoa, Somalia.[17][18] She was the youngest of seven siblings, including sister Sahra Noor. Her father, Nur Omar Mohamed, an ethnic Somali from the Majeerteen clan of Northeastern Somalia,[19] was a colonel in the Somali army under Siad Barre and also worked as a teacher trainer.[20][21] Her mother, Fadhuma Abukar Haji Hussein, a Benadiri, died when Ilhan was two.[22][23][24][25] She was raised by her father and grandfather, who were moderate Sunni Muslims opposed to the rigid Wahhabi interpretation of Islam.[26][27] Her grandfather Abukar was the director of Somalia's National Marine Transport, and some of Omar's uncles and aunts also worked as civil servants and educators.[21] She and her family fled Somalia to escape the Somali Civil War and spent four years in a Dadaab refugee camp in Garissa County, Kenya, near the Somali border.[28][29][30]

Omar's family secured asylum in the U.S. and arrived in New York in 1995,[31][32] then lived for a time in Arlington, Virginia,[24] before moving to and settling in Minneapolis,[24] where her father worked first as a taxi driver and later for the post office.[24] Her father and grandfather emphasized the importance of democracy during her upbringing, and at age 14 she accompanied her grandfather to caucus meetings, serving as his interpreter.[27][33] She has spoken about school bullying she endured during her time in Virginia, stimulated by her distinctive Somali appearance and wearing of the hijab. She recalls gum being pressed into her hijab, being pushed down stairs, and physical taunts while she was changing for gym class.[24] Omar remembers her father's reaction to these incidents: "They are doing something to you because they feel threatened in some way by your existence."[24] Omar became a U.S. citizen in 2000 when she was 17 years old.[34][24]

Omar attended Thomas Edison High School, from which she graduated in 2001, and volunteered as a student organizer.[35] She graduated from North Dakota State University in 2011 with a bachelor's degree, majoring in political science and international studies.[36][33] Omar was a Policy Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs.[37][38][39]

Early career

Omar began her professional career as a community nutrition educator at the University of Minnesota, working in that capacity from 2006 to 2009 in the Greater Minneapolis–Saint Paul area. In 2012, she served as campaign manager for Kari Dziedzic's reelection campaign for the Minnesota State Senate. Between 2012 and 2013, she was a child nutrition outreach coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Education.[40]

In 2013, Omar managed Andrew Johnson's campaign for Minneapolis City Council. After Johnson was elected, she served as his senior policy aide from 2013 to 2015.[37] During a contentious precinct caucus that turned violent in February 2014, she was attacked by five people and was injured.[21] According to MinnPost, the day before the caucus, Minneapolis city council member Abdi Warsame had told Johnson to warn Omar not to attend the meeting.[41]

As of September 2015, Omar was the Director of Policy Initiatives of the Women Organizing Women Network, advocating for women from East Africa to take on civic and political leadership roles.[37] In September 2018, Jeff Cirillo of Roll Call called her a "progressive rising star".[42]

Minnesota House of Representatives

Elections

In 2016, Omar ran on the Democratic–Farmer–Labor (DFL) ticket for the Minnesota House of Representatives in District 60B, which includes part of northeast Minneapolis. On August 9, Omar defeated Mohamud Noor and incumbent Phyllis Kahn in the DFL primary.[43] Her chief opponent in the general election was Republican nominee Abdimalik Askar, another activist in the Somali-American community. In late August, Askar announced his withdrawal from the campaign.[44] In November, Omar won the general election, becoming the first Somali-American legislator in the United States.[45] Her term began on January 3, 2017

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