Ilhan Omar, a Representative from Minnesota; born in Mogadishu, Somalia, October 4, 1982; graduated from Edison High School, Minneapolis, Minn.; B.A., North Dakota State University, Fargo, N. Dak., 2011; B.S., North Dakota State University, Fargo, N. Dak., 2011; teacher; campaign manager; non-profit executive; staff, Minnesota department of education, 2012-2013; staff, Minneapolis city council, 2013-2015; member of the Minnesota state house of representatives, 2017-2019; elected as a Democrat to the One Hundred Sixteenth Congress January 3, 2019. An experienced Twin Cities policy analyst, organizer, public speaker and advocate, Rep. Omar was sworn into office in January 2019, making her the first Somali-American Member of Congress, the first woman of color to represent Minnesota, and one of the first two Muslim-American women elected to Congress.
Omar has drawn adoration and criticism since that election success as one of a new generation of young politicians shaking up the status quo in Washington DC. She recently clashed with the US envoy to Venezuela, in a clip that has since gone viral. But while she has won support for her approach on Capitol Hill, she has also faced repeated accusations of anti-Semitism, and even allegations of campaign finance violations in Minnesota.
As a legislator, Rep. Omar is committed to fighting for the shared values of the 5th District, values that put people at the center of our democracy. She plans to focus on tackling many of the issues that she hears about most from her constituents, like investing in education and freeing students from the shackles of debt; ensuring a fair wage for a hard day’s work; creating a just immigration system and tackling the existential threat of climate change.
Rep. Omar also plans to resist attempts to divide us and push destructive policies that chip away at our rights and freedoms—and to build a more inclusive and compassionate culture, one that will allow our economy to flourish and encourage more Americans to participate in our democracy.
Ilhan Omar Full Biography and Profile
Ilhan Omar, the youngest of seven siblings, was born October 4, 1981 in Somalia. Her mother died when she was two years old. Raised by her father and grandfather, Ilhan Omar and her family fled the country’s civil war when she was eight-years-old. They lived in a refugee camp in Kenya for four years before coming to the United States, eventually settling in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis in 1997.
Ilhan Omar became a refugee in 1991 when a brutal civil war devastated Somalia, a predominantly Muslim country in East Africa, and displaced her family along with over 2 million others. Five years after entering the U.S., Omar was eligible for citizenship; she became a citizen in 2000.
Ilhan’s interest in politics began at the age of 14 when she was as an interpreter for her grandfather at local DFL caucuses. Watching neighbors come together to advocate for change at the grassroots level made Ilhan fall in love with the democratic process. Originally working in education, she began her political career managing city council campaigns and working as a senior policy aide for Minnesota politicians. In 2016 she won election to the state’s legislature – unseating a 44-year incumbent in the process.
“A refugee girl came here and achieved the American dream. I think it’s very positive for everyone who is an immigrant,” the Ohio resident said, calling her a “role model,” Somali refugee Awmam Mahdi told the BBC.
Ilhan Omar Early life and education
- BA, Political Science, North Dakota State University
- BS, International Studies, North Dakota State University
- Policy Fellowship, University Of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs
As a student at Edison High School in Minneapolis, she became an organizer and has been a coalition builder ever since. She worked as a community educator at the University of Minnesota and has been a devoted progressive activist in the DFL party for many years. Before running for office, Ilhan was a Humphrey Policy Fellow and served as a senior Policy Aide for a Minneapolis City Council Member.
Through advocacy work with which she’s been involved, she’s advanced important issues, including support for working families, educational access, environmental protection, and racial equity.
In 2016 she won election to the state’s legislature – unseating a 44-year incumbent in the process. Ms Omar supports policies like greater healthcare coverage, more background checks for gun buyers, and abolishing the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
Ilhan became the first Somali-American, Muslim legislator in the United States. With the help of her committed campaign team, they increased voter turnout by 37%. She was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in District 60B, where she’s lived for the past 20 years and where she and her husband Ahmed are raising their three children.
“A refugee girl came here and achieved the American dream,” Somali refugee Awmam Mahdi told the BBC.
“I think it’s very positive for everyone who is an immigrant,” the Ohio resident said, calling her a “role model”.
Ilhan Omar Experience
Ilhan is an accomplished legislator, policy analyst, community organizer, non-profit leader, public speaker, board member, youth mentor, and an award-winning human rights advocate.
Ilhan Omar Policy Expert
- Assistant Minority Leader at the Minnesota Legislature with assignments to three committees: Civil Law and Data Practices Policy; Higher Education and Career Readiness Policy and Finance; State Government Finance
- Appointed to and Chaired Governor Dayton’s Young Women’s Initiative
- Director of Policy, Women Organizing Women
- Former Minneapolis City Council Senior Policy Aide
- Humphrey Policy Fellow
- Child Nutrition Outreach Coordinator, MN Department of Education
- Community Nutrition Educator, University of Minnesota
Ilhan Omar Coalition Builder
- VoteRunLead 2018 Keynote Speaker
- National American Muslim Democratic Caucus Member
- Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network, Member of America’s Cabinet
Ilhan Omar Community Leader
- Former Advisory Board member for Minnesota Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)
- Former VP of Minneapolis NAACP
- Board Member, St. Anthony Falls Heritage Board
- Human Rights & Women’s Advocate
- Oxfam Sister Planet Ambassador
- 2017 United Way Refugee Summit Keynote
- Board Member, The Legal Rights Center
Ilhan Omar Accomplishments
- Helped allocate $5 million for outreach and prevention education to raise awareness during a measles outbreak and encourage vaccines
- Allocated $400,000 to the Somali Museum of Arts and $350,000 for the expansion and renovation of the Brian Coyle Community Center in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood
- Passed legislation to increase funding summer enrichment programs for low income students who may be unfamiliar with a higher education experience
- Passed $77 million in Statewide Affordable Housing and Homelessness Infrastructure bonds to improve housing, including $10 million for Public Housing Rehabilitation
- Expanded childcare grants for student parents and fought for them to receive a tax credit
- Negotiated over $200 million in bonding packages to improve our infrastructure in district
- Passed $15 and paid sick and safe time in Minneapolis
- Introduced HF 4201, requiring a counselor in every school in Minnesota
- Introduced HF 3434, eliminating the statute of limitations for sex offenses
- Introduced HF 2949, changing lease requirements to fight student exploitation
- Introduced HF 2630, funding the prevention of measles outbreaks in immigrant communities
- Rallied 2,000+ neighbors to oppose Trump’s immigration ban, strengthening Minnesota’s role in the lawsuit to oppose the travel ban
- Served 500+ neighbors with immigration resource fair
- Organized a “Know your Rights” training for Minneapolis-area immigrants
- Held regular in-district office hours and community forums, including her signature “Coffee and Kulan” events, connecting with over 1,000 constituents in her first term
- Led caucus trainings to improve the political participation of college students in her district
- Opened a first of its kind in-district office for constituent services
- Increased 2016 voter turnout by 37% in her district
- Hired canvassers and adopted 10 swing districts for MN DFL House and Senate candidates in the 2016 general election, knocking on 2,000+ doors in St. Cloud, Faribault, Willmar, and other cities across Minnesota
- Supported progressive candidates who backed a higher minimum wage and smart housing policy in the 2017 Municipal Election and helped secure a progressive majority on the Minneapolis City Council and Minneapolis Park Board
Awards and Recognition
- “Commitment to Service Award,” Governor Dayton’s Council on the Martin Luther King Jr Holiday
- “Champion of Change Award,” Minnesota Urban Debate League, Given for being a catalyst for change in our community through advancement of effective policy and a more engaged community
- “The Jeanne and Joseph Sullivan Award,” National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), Given for commitment to advancing human rights and women’s leadership
- “Olga Zoltai Award,” International Institute of MN, Given in recognition of outstanding community leadership by, or in service to, New Americans
- “Hall of Fame Award,” National Association of Women’s Business Owners, Given for excellent female advancement of Business Leadership
- “Public Service Award,” University of Minnesota Somali Student Association, Given for outstanding work in the community
- “Torchbearer Award,” African Network of Southwest Florida (ANSWFL), Given for outstanding leadership and role modeling to people of African Diaspora
- 2018 “Citizen of the Year” Award, Minneapolis Rotary Club
- Inducted to the DFL Women’s Hall of Fame in 2010
Omar didn’t run for office to spotlight the plight of the Somali community. Her political base was actually young progressive activists, many of whom she had worked with as a community educator at the University of Minnesota. She decided to run against 44-year incumbent Phyllis Kahn after she met with the elderly mother of her future campaign chair, who felt she was not being heard. Omar saw the political opportunity to make inroads with this demographic, and seized it. She championed a progressive platform during both of her campaigns, advocating for the cancellation of student debt, expanded health care and stronger environmental regulation.
Omar started out strong on Capitol Hill. She landed a seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, joined the Congressional Black Caucus, became whip for the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and has used social media and liberal policies to gain an unusually high profile. Within the progressive faction of Congress, she is known as a workhorse who deals with less sexy pieces of legislation like rules packages and budget caps. She has co-sponsored over 200 bills and took the lead on a proposal with Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Pramila Jayapal to eliminate $1.6 trillion in student debt. She’s also gained a reputation for fearlessness in meetings on issues close to her heart, like immigration from Africa and female empowerment.
But her repudiation of fellow Democrats who don’t sign up for progressive policies has irked party leaders and more moderate caucus members who argue that she doesn’t represent the majority views of the caucus and is endangering the party’s majority. Few of the bills she has sponsored or co-sponsored have passed the House of Representatives, and they have been overshadowed by her rhetoric.
In a Twitter exchange in February, Omar said of congressional support for Israel, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.” Omar’s tweet has since been deleted. But Pelosi and others condemned the comments, and Omar quickly apologized. But a month later, she told a group at a Washington bookstore, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is O.K. for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” Many of her Jewish colleagues and constituents thought she was insinuating they harbored dual loyalty to the U.S. and Israel, another anti-Semitic trope. Republicans seized the opportunity to paint the entire party as anti-Semitic and hostage to Omar’s views.
Omar and three other women of color from Congress’s freshman class clashed with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic Party leaders over a funding bill for aid to address the crisis at the southern border, laying bare the deep division between the old and new guard in the House. Then Trump, beset by multiple failed attempts to address the border crisis himself, launched a racist Twitter attack against these four freshmen, saying that if they didn’t want to be in America, they should “go back.” This rhetoric persisted throughout the week, with Trump singling out Omar at his rally in North Carolina, and the crowd responding with chants of “send her back.”
Trump’s comments caused outrage and triggered a temporary unification of House Democrats, who passed a resolution on July 16, largely along partisan lines, condemning him for his comments. But they highlight how Omar has become an object of intense division. Her opponents see a left-wing ideologue who criticizes the country that gave her shelter: she came to the U.S. as a refugee at age 12 and is the only one of the so-called Squad of four freshmen who was actually born abroad. Her defenders say she is standing up for core American values in the face of rising racism. For her part, Omar accepts that she is a target for the President and his allies. “The right wing, Trump, the Republicans, white supremacists [launch] attacks on immigrants, refugees, black people, women, Muslims,” she tells TIME. With her, she says, “They have all of that in one box.”
“We are a nation of tremendous wealth. Hunger in this country is the result of policies that keep wages low and funnel wealth to the top. It is the result of a political system that says it is OK to spend money on tax breaks for millionaires and the same companies who taint our economy, but we can’t afford to fund meals for our kids in the streets.”Ilhan Omar
– Ilhan Omar Biography and Profile (Ilhan Omar)