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Minnesota Somalis embrace Election Day



MINNEAPOLIS – In the mid to late 1990’s, Minneapolis become home to thousands of Somali refugees.

We now have the largest population in the United States.

And today, on Election Day, we were shown something absolutely remarkable about our Somali community in Minneapolis’ Ward 6.

They voted early at seven times the rate of other areas in the city.

As first and second generation immigrants they are taking their civic duty to a record-breaking level.

Ali Isse has been getting out the vote early in Ward 6 and his response to this?

“It’s just a normal campaign. (We are) just working a little bit harder,” Isse said with a shrug.

That’s a humbling way to describe it but the reality is too important to not say out loud. These Somali Americans hold a passion to vote because they know, more than many of us born in the U.S. know what it means to be able to do so.

“This is one of our dreams you know, the reason that we are here because we never had a good democratic system and once you get one you will enjoy it and that’s why people are eager and happy to go out and make sure their voices are heard,” Isse said.

It’s simply beautiful really. To watch a community embrace democracy that way. Especially when that community hasn’t been as embraced by the American community.

“A lot of times we are a stereotyped like, oh Somalis they can’t integrate or they can’t get along with other people but that’s not true and this is one of the ways we can prove you know hey we just like everybody else,” Isse said.

Well, in this way, not even in the slightest with these kinds of voting numbers.

And to be specific to Ward 6, look at the city council race they are voting ON. A race with three Somali candidates.

“Even though we are still first and second generation here generally our community is very active in terms of what is going around on local and national level and there are a lot of issues now in terms of the immigrant refugees and all kind of things,” Isse said.

It’s a classic American idea. If you don’t like the way the system works, do two things. Vote. And. Run.

“We’d rather have more on the ballot than not and that’s something we are really proud about,” Isse said.

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U.S. finds four Minnesotans from Somalia used false IDs to gain citizenship



The U.S. Justice Department on Monday sought to revoke the citizenship of four Minnesotans from Somalia who are accused of defrauding the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program more than a decade ago.

According to four civil complaints filed by Washington, D.C.-based Justice Department attorneys, Fosia Abdi Adan, Ahmed Mohamed Warsame, Mustaf Abdi Adan and Faysal Jama Mire posed as a nuclear family and used false identities in applying for visas.

Before coming to the United States in 2001, Adan, 51, of Eden Prairie, allegedly claimed to be married to Ahmed Mohamed Warsame, 54. According to the complaints, the two also claimed that Mustaf Abdi Adan, 33, and Faysal Jama Mire, 31, were their children.
Adan and Warsame divorced in Minnesota soon after Warsame was admitted as a permanent resident, at which time he also changed his name. Warsame has since been living in St. Cloud and Mustaf Adan and Mire have both been living in Hennepin County.

The Diversity Visa Lottery, which grants visas to a limited number of people from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States, has been in the spotlight since the Oct. 31 terror attack in New York City by a man who immigrated from Uzbekistan under the program in 2010. President Donald Trump called for the elimination of the program after the attack.

In a statement announcing the Minnesota complaints on Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions added that the country’s current immigration system is “easily abused by fraudsters and nefarious actors.”

“Chain migration,” which gives priority for entrance to immigrants with family members, “only multiplies the consequences of this abuse,” Sessions said.

Neither defendant could be reached for comment, and they did not have attorneys listed for them as of late Monday.

In the complaint against Adan, attorneys alleged that she engaged in “alien smuggling,” rendering her ineligible for naturalization. Each of the four also faces numerous counts that include allegations of illegal procurement of naturalization and lacking valid immigration documents.

The United States is seeking a judgment revoking the four defendants’ citizenship and also “forever restraining and enjoining” them from claiming “any rights, privileges, benefits or advantages” under any documentation gained during their initial naturalizations.

According to the affidavit of a Department of State agent assigned to Minneapolis, Warsame omitted a 1996 marriage in Yemen to another woman and details about his biological children. That woman told fraud investigators in 2010 that she was Warsame’s sole marriage and that he had obtained fake marriage documents for himself and Adan, who is a distant relative.

In an interview with the State Department investigator at his St. Cloud home last year, Warsame admitted to posing under a fake name and lying about his marriage to Adan to gain citizenship. Adan and the two men who claimed to be their children were each cousins of Warsame’s, he said. The pair are also accused of falsely claiming a third child, who was denied entry to the U.S.

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St. Cloud rejects resolution calling for moratorium on immigration



ST. CLOUD – Amid mounting national scrutiny of federal resettlement programs, the St. Cloud City Council on Monday soundly rejected a proposal by one of its members to recommend a moratorium on refugee resettlement here.

Council Member Jeff John­son said that his measure wasn’t in­tend­ed to permanently ban refugee resettlement, but rath­er, temporarily stop it in 2018 un­til the city gets de­tails on its cost to tax­pay­ers. “The over­all qual­i­ty of life” for resi­dents will con­tin­ue to be “ad­verse­ly im­paired by ex­ces­sive de­mands on local re­sources” by those who are re­set­tling in the city, he stated in the resolution that he presented to the council.

After hearing from supporters and opponents, the council voted down Johnson’s measure 6-1.

The City Hall meeting drew more than 300 residents, some carrying American flags while others held signs that read “All Are Welcome” — reflecting the growing and often tense debate in this city of 67,000 residents over the resettlement issue.

Earlier this summer, dozens of residents delivered a petition to the council demanding that it limit or control resettlement. But just two weeks ago, shortly after Johnson’s proposed measure was e-mailed to his colleagues, the council did just the opposite, approving by a 5-1 vote a resolution by Council Member Jeff Goerger that stated St. Cloud is a welcoming community. Johnson cast the lone dissenting vote then. On Monday, the council reaffirmed Goerger’s resolution, with Johnson casting the lone opposing vote.

Natalie Ringsmuth, executive director of #UniteCloud, a nonprofit that promotes tolerance in central Minnesota, said the vote, while symbolic, was a pivotal moment in helping St. Cloud shed a long-held reputation for being a racist, unwelcoming area.

“St. Cloud is basically stepping out and saying ‘This is who we are — we are a welcoming community,’ ” she said. “People can point to this and say St. Cloud is moving in the right direction. They can’t say we’re bigots and racists anymore. We’re not ‘White Cloud.’ ”

East Af­ri­can refu­gees — mostly Somali — first start­ed mov­ing to this Mis­sis­sip­pi River city a­bout seven years ago. Since then, Lu­ther­an So­cial Service of Min­ne­so­ta, the only or­gan­i­za­tion that over­sees ref­u­gee resettlement in St. Cloud, has helped move an av­er­age of 189 refu­gees a year — a total of 1,512 — to the city. The or­gan­i­za­tion ex­pects to re­set­tle an­oth­er 225 refu­gees here in 2018.

That’s helped to make St. Cloud not only bigger, but more diverse.

Of the more than 59,000 residents in the city in 2010, 92 percent were white. By 2015, the city had grown to 66,000 residents, 84 percent of whom were white, according to U.S. Census data American Fact Finder.

But the rapidly changing face of the community has been unsettling for some. Anti-Muslim events here have drawn crowds, mirroring rising anti-Muslim sentiment nationally. When a 20-year-old Somali refugee stabbed and wounded 10 people at a local mall in 2016, some feared that Muslims might be targeted in retaliation.

Instead, community leaders hosted unity rallies and posted signs across neighborhoods welcoming refugees and people of different faiths.

But in August, a group of residents calling themselves “St. Cloud Citizens for Transparency” presented a petition to the City Council with nearly 300 signatures from people in Minnesota and 11 other states, asking the council to control refugee resettlement. The petition was led in part by Kathleen Virnig, a St. Cloud resident, who said in an interview that residents just want the city to have a say in how many refugees are resettled and know how much it will cost.

“I have no hatred for some of these people, it’s the religious differences about their way of life,” Virnig said.

Helena Halverson, who has lived in St. Cloud since 1977, added in an interview that a moratorium would put “a pause” on refugee resettlement as the city gets more data.

“I do not like a label that I’m racist or Islamophobic,” she said before Monday’s meeting. “I do like justice and fairness and I do like transparency.”

While introducing his resolution last month, Goerger said St. Cloud is a “just and welcoming community,” a sentiment he believes is shared by most of his council colleagues and the city.

“When communities have hostile reputations toward minorities, that is a really hard reputation to overcome. And unfortunately St. Cloud has that reputation,” said Christopher Lehman, a St. Cloud State University professor of ethnic studies who was one of five speakers who addressed the council at that meeting. “St. Cloud is only going to get more diverse. And we have to decide whether we’re going to embrace that or not.”

On Monday, before Johnson presented his resolution, resident Christopher Chamberlin presented a petition with 500 signatures that he said were in support of the moratorium.

When Johnson introduced the resolution, he cited U.S. State Department travel warnings to places such as Somalia and Ethiopia.

“I’m really troubled here,” Johnson said.

Johnson isn’t alone in asking questions about resettlement costs to local cities. The Trump administration has moved to halt and shrink refugee resettlement at the federal level.

Data that the state compiled for the Star Tribune earlier this year showed that in 2015, Minnesota spent more than $180 million in state and federal dollars on cash, food and medical assistance for refugees — an increase, but still less than 2 percent of total expenses for those programs.

Stearns County staff members, meanwhile, are compiling updated data on resettlement costs to present to the County Board in mid-November. And at the state level, the Minnesota Legislative Auditor’s office is assessing what kind of data on refugee resettlement costs are available to St. Cloud and other communities across the state.

Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota will host a public webinar on resettlement Nov. 14 with panelists discussing the issue and taking questions. Other organizations also are working on outreach and education.

As Johnson presented his resolution Monday, #UniteCloud was holding a panel discussion to give residents a chance to ask questions of Muslims. While Ringsmuth said recent anti-Muslim rhetoric doesn’t mean the group must go back to square one, she said it shows that it needs to expand its education efforts beyond St. Cloud to outlying central Minnesota towns.

“Everybody,” she said, “wants to have a welcoming community.”

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Minnesotan Recounts Somali Terror Attacks, Vows to Fight Back



The blasts were bad enough, but it’s what came after them that Jibril Afyare can’t forget.

“You have to go through bodies after bodies after bodies after bodies,” he described, “and some of these bodies are beyond recognition.”

Afyare was talking about the search for loved ones in the aftermath of two recent terrorist attacks in Somalia. He was in Mogadishu when a truck bomb killed more than 350 people on Oct. 14. Then, two weeks later, he was still there when a suicide car bomber killed dozens more.

“I don’t know how humanly possible you could cope with that,” Afyare said Monday from Minneapolis.

Afyare, a Minnesotan, said he lost eight family members in the attacks along with a dear friend, Ahmed Eyow, a Minnesotan who was visiting Somalia from Bloomington.

“This is tragic all around,” Afyare said.

He shared a story about a disabled man who depends on his children to get by; Afyare said they were both killed.

He also talked about his 30-year-old cousin, for whom he searched and searched, praying she was still alive, before finding out the truth.

“She was in a vehicle, a traffic jam,” he said. “They were all burned to death.”

Now, Afyare strives to turn his grief into hope. A member of former U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger’s Somali-American Anti-Terrorism Task Force, Afyare believes that with international cooperation, the terrorists who took his family and his friends can be stopped.

“The message is collectively, collectively, we can confront this.”

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