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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 the first Somali-American, the first naturalized citizen of African birth, and the first woman of color to hold elective office from Minnesota. She is also one of the first two Muslim women (along with Rashida Tlaib) to serve in Congress. She is a member of the Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party
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 suburbs.
Omar is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and has advocated for a living wage, affordable housing, universal healthcare, student loan debt forgiveness, the protection of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). She has strongly opposed the immigration policies of the Trump administration, including the Trump travel ban. She has been the subject of several death threats, conspiracy theories, other harassment by political opponents, and false and misleading claims by Donald Trump.
Omar was born in Mogadishu, Somalia on October 4, 1982, and spent her early years in Baidoa, Somalia. 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, worked as a teacher trainer. Her mother, Fadhuma Abukar Haji Hussein, a Benadiri (a community of partial Yemeni descent), died when Ilhan was two.[ She was raised by her father and grandfather, who were moderate Sunni Muslims opposed to the rigid Wahhabi interpretation of Islam.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.She and her family fled Somalia to escape the war and spent four years in a Dadaab refugee camp in Garissa County, Kenya, near the Somali border.[
Omar’s family secured asylum in the U.S. and arrived in New York in 1995, then lived for a time in Arlington, Virginia, before moving to and settling in Minneapolis, where her father worked first as a taxi driver and later for the post office. 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. 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. 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.” Omar became a U.S. citizen in 2000 when she was 17 years old.
Omar attended Thomas Edison High School, from which she graduated in 2001, and volunteered as a student organizer She graduated from North Dakota State University in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree, majoring in political science and international studies. Omar was a Policy Fellow at the University of Minnesota‘s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
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.
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. During a contentious precinct caucus that turned violent in February 2014, she was attacked by five people and was injured. 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.
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.In September 2018, Jeff Cirillo of Roll Call called her a “progressive rising star.”
Minnesota House of Representatives
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. 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.In November Omar won the general election, becoming the first Somali American legislator in the United States. Her term began on January 3, 2017.
Tenure and activity
During her tenure as state Representative for District 60B, Omar was an Assistant Minority Leader for the DFL caucus. She authored 38 bills during the 2017–2018 legislative session
- Civil Law & Data Practices Policy
- Higher Education & Career Readiness Policy & Finance
- State Government Finance
Financial transparency issues
In 2018, Republican state representative Steve Drazkowski publicly accused Omar of campaign finance violations, claiming that she used campaign funds to pay a divorce lawyer, and that her acceptance of speaking fees from public colleges violated Minnesota House rules. Omar responded that the attorney’s fees were not personal but campaign-related; she offered to return the speaking fees. Drazkowski later accused Omar of improperly using campaign funds for personal travel to Estonia and locations in the U.S.
Omar’s campaign dismissed the accusations as politically motivated and accused Drazkowski of using public funds to harass a Muslim candidate.In response to an editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune arguing that Omar should be more transparent about her use of campaign funds, she said: “these people are part of systems that have historically been disturbingly motivated to silence, discredit and dehumanize influencers who threaten the establishment.”
In June 2019, Minnesota campaign finance officials ruled that Omar had to pay back $3,500 that she had spent on out-of-state travel and tax filing in violation of state law. She was also ordered to pay a $500 fine.