Two Former Refugees Will Be Taking Office

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Ilhan Omar, Somali-American legislatior
Ilhan Omar, the first Somali-American legislator in the United States. Lorie Shaull

This month, two former refugees have recently made news following successful campaigns. In Minnesota, Ilhan Omar has become our country’s first Somali-American legislator. In California, Steve Ly has become the nation’s first Hmong mayor. Both Omar and Ly came to the United States as child refugees.

Ilhan Omar was born in Somalia, and came to the U.S. at the age of 12 after spending 4 years in a refugee camp in Kenya. As a teenager, Ihan struggled to learn English, adjust to American culture, and come to terms with the inconsistencies of a country that offered freedom and safety to her family but was still so full of racial inequality and religious intolerance.

In high school, as Ilhan overcame her own struggles, she began organizing activities to build bridges between students from different cultural backgrounds. These efforts planted the seed that led to her involvement in politics. As Ilhan recounted in a recent Huffington Post interview:

I think it sort of sharpened my desire to continue to work in building bridges… and learning that not one person has a solution, but as a community, collaboratively, we could figure out a solution.

The 34-year-old mother of three is a strong advocate for the Somali community in Minnesota, but is also passionate about serving all of the residents in her district. She emphasized this in a conversation with the Huffington Post, “[America] is the land of liberty and justice for all, but we have to work for it… we need to continue that progress to make it actually ‘justice for all.’”

In California, the people of Elk Grove have elected Steve Ly, a refugee from Laos, as their next mayor. He will become the first Hmong mayor in the United States.

Ly fled from Laos with his family when the Communist party took over the country following the Laotian Civil War. He came to the U.S. when he was just four years old. In an interview with KXTV he said:

Many Americans bring stories… and I think that it is extremely important to remember that we are a nation of immigrants.

On December 14, he will be sworn in as mayor. Speaking with KXTV he shared, “I think this could only happen in America, there is nowhere else in the world that a refugee kid could run for public office.

The U.S. has a long history of welcoming immigrants and refugees who have become integral members of our communities. We’re proud to live in a country where dedicated Americans like Ilhan and Steve can serve their communities and contribute to the fabric of our nation.

Every day we support newly resettled refugees, walking alongside them as they face the challenges of rebuilding their lives and contributing to their new communities. Donate today to offer your support for refugees.

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