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Former refugee elected to state legislature defies Trump in her first term

“I am America’s hope, and the president’s nightmare.” That’s how Ilhan Omar described herself during a recent appearance on The Daily Show. The Muslim Somali-American female state legislator from Minnesota was elected the same night as Donald Trump — but the two could not be more different. Speaking to host Trevor Noah, Omar said, “This […]

By Dan Desai Martin - July 15, 2017
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Minnesota Democratic state Rep. Ilhan Omar, the first Somali-American elected to a state legislature.
Minnesota Democratic state Rep. Ilhan Omar, the first Somali-American elected to a state legislature.

That’s how Ilhan Omar described herself during a recent appearance on The Daily Show. The Muslim Somali-American female state legislator from Minnesota was elected the same night as Donald Trump — but the two could not be more different.

Speaking to host Trevor Noah, Omar said, “This country gave us hope, this country allowed us to develop our own identities, and to create our own home. And we shouldn’t look down on the next person that’s trying to do that.”

While Trump insults immigrants, Omar stands up for her fellow immigrants.

While Trump wants to ban Muslim refugees, Omar is a former refugee who is serving her community and state with honor and dignity.

When Trump seeks to tear down and alienate communities, Omar reaches out to find common ground, and to bring people together.

Though only in her first term, Omar’s story has made her a rising star in progressive circles, and for good reason. She and her family immigrated from Somalia to the United States when she was 12 years old. She learned English from television shows and helped translate with her father at political caucus events. Since then, she has always had an interest in politics and public service.

In her short time in the Minnesota legislature, Omar supported a $15 minimum wage, co-authored a bill that would provide guaranteed paid sick and family leave, and backed a bill that would require cops to receive conflict mediation and cultural diversity training.

At a recent panel of women lawmakers who formed the People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) caucus, Omar said, “I think that is very important not only to be a representative democracy [but] to be a reflective democracy.”

When Trump first attempted to institute his Muslim Ban, Omar scheduled a Facebook event at her district headquarters. The response was overwhelming:

After laying down for a nap, she woke up to calls from the police department asking how she would handle the crowds. Thousands had already responded. She moved the Sunday event to a nearby recreation center, where it drew more than 2,000 people, many of them immigrants and refugees. Outside the community center, an overflow crowd of mostly white Minnesotans chanted “United States, united people.”

Omar has serious concerns about the rhetoric coming out of the Trump White House regarding Muslims. She notes that the hate-filled language only serves to fuel Islamic extremists: “Our president is their best PR person.”

To counter the rampant Islamophobia and anti-immigrant hate-speech coming from the White House, Omar hosts community meetings for refugees and immigrants, complete with free legal advice from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Unfortunately, attendance can be sparse because of “fear of being harassed or detained by federal agents.”

And at a recent event in Arizona, “Omar also called on Muslims to stand up for members of other minority communities, saying that fighting for ‘issues that don’t directly affect us’ is the ‘essence of ally-ship.'”

Her goal for the 2018 legislative session: Make the entire state of Minnesota a “sanctuary state” where all immigrants are free from fear and harassment.

The day after the election, Omar sent her supporters an email with the subject line, “Promise in the darkness.”

She is using her life’s experience to lift up and protect others who are now being attacked and marginalized. In the darkness of the Trump era, she is a shining light.

Stand Up Fight Back is a weekly series that focuses on Democrats at the federalstate, and local level who are taking real, concrete actions to further the resistance and fight for progressive values.


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