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Columbus, Ohio

Ismail Mohamed Wants To Be Ohio’s First Somali-American Legislator

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Ismail Mohamed, a candidate for Ohio's 25th House District, would be the state's first Somali-American legislator. CLARE ROTH / WOSU

Home means a few different things for Ismail Mohamed.

Right now, Mohamed works in Cincinnati as a staff lawyer at Baker Hostetler. He was born in Somalia, a country his family was forced to flee in the early 2000s as the civil war unfolded. But he feels his deepest connection is to the Columbus neighborhood where he was raised.

Mohamed graduated from Northland High School about a decade ago, earned a Bachelor’s and a law degree from The Ohio State University, and returned to the Northland last spring. Now, he’s running to represent the 25th District in the Ohio House.

“I reached out to a lot of different politicians to kind of get answers on some of the concerns that are going on, and I was not getting the answers that I thought were really addressing the issues. So that’s what prompted me to run,” Mohamed said.

Mohamed will challenge Democratic incumbent Rep. Bernadine Kennedy Kent in the May primary. If he wins that election, and the subsequent general in November, he’d be the first Somali-American state legislator in Ohio and the second in the country.

Mohamed says his district includes a lot of New American communities, including from Somalia, Nepal and other foreign countries.

“It’s critical we’re promoting such communities to really advance our goals and our policies in the future,” he says. “I’m so honored to be that poster-child and push that forward.”

But Mohamed says those groups are part of the larger fabric of the 25th District, and the issues they face are largely the same.

“The biggest issue in our community, I would say, is lack of economic development. The 25th [House District] has the lowest income rate — I think median income is $31,000,” he says. “A little more than half have high school diplomas. So there’s lack of educational attainment as well, which is driving the poverty issue.”

Mohamed is only 25 years old, far younger than the average age of Ohio lawmakers. But he said he doesn’t believe his lack of political experience will get in his way.

“Someone who doesn’t have a lot of ties to a political party, doesn’t have ties to the political machine, and is able to directly touch our constituents — I think that puts me in a better position,” he says.

And as tensions over immigration rise all over the country, Mohamed says local politics are more important than ever.

“It’s not just a national arena that’s defining us,” he says. “It’s more us defining what’s going in the national arena.”

Columbus, Ohio

11-year-old Somali girl reunites with family in Columbus after 8 year separation

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10TV — COLUMBUS, Ohio -A family in Columbus is celebrating possibly the happiest moment of their lives.

They’re reserved. They’re soft-spoken while sitting in an upstairs conference room at the Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS) building off East Dublin Granville Road.

The henna tattoos on their wrists are lightly faded, but they mark the celebration and homecoming of 11-year-old Sumaya Ahmed.

“It was a very happy moment and I cannot even express that feeling,” Sumaya’s mother, Zahra Ali, said.

Ali came to the United States from Somalia with her daughter, Sarah Ahmed, in 2014.

10TV talked with Ali alongside Somali interpreter, Sowdo Mohamud.

“The reason we took [family] to America is because it’s very diploma country,” she said. “You get education, school and work and civil war back home is the reason everyone left.”

Everything was here in the United States except Ali’s daughter, Sumaya. Ali and Sarah Ahmed had been separated from Sumaya for eight years.

“It’s really hard and scary, sometimes,” Sarah said. “You don’t know what she’s going through, every day.”

When they arrived in America, Ali filed for “following-to-join,” which is a benefits program outlined in the Immigration Law to have Sumaya join her in the U. S.

Four years after filing and eight years after being face-to-face with her daughter, Sumaya, her mother and her sister are together.

These pictures capture the moments after Sumaya’s plane touched down in Columbus, Saturday, and she landed in the warm embrace of family.

“I was very, very happy,” Sumaya said.

All she says she wants to do now is be with her family and go to school.

During the interview, Sumaya became emotional. When asked the reason for her tears, she simply replied “Happiness.”

It’s a happiness the family knows not many immigrants will get.

“I feel like everyone should get a chance to be free and happy in this country,” Sarah said.

According to CRIS, after a federal appeals court ruled against President Donald Trump’s travel ban in December, which targeted 11 countries, 33 refugees have been admitted into the United States. Only seven Somalis have been allowed in and Sumaya is one of them.

CRIS expects about 21,000 immigrants to make it to the U. S. this year. That number is down from the 45,000 cap the Trump administration put in place last year. CRIS estimates 750 immigrants will come to Ohio.

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Columbus, Ohio

A year later, Trump’s travel ban still keeping families apart

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Days after coming to America, Aden Hassan’s life fell apart.

Hassan, 25, a Somali native who had been living with his mother in a Kenyan refugee camp, didn’t want to leave her behind when he left on Jan. 20, 2017, to be resettled in Columbus, but he was assured she would be days behind him.

Hassan couldn’t have known that the country where he was going was changing, and that just a week after he arrived in the United States, newly inaugurated President Donald Trump would announce an executive order that would change his life.

The order is commonly referred to as a “Muslim travel ban” because it suspended people from seven mostly Muslim countries, including Somalia, from entering the United States for 90 days and stopped the refugee program for 120 days.

Now, more than a year later, Hassan still doesn’t know when his mother will join him.

Hassan and his mother are among many families affected by Trump’s first ban, and the two others that have followed.

Last week, local agencies and organizations marked the anniversary of the ban to raise public awareness and remind people that the issue hasn’t gone away.

When she heard about the ban a year ago, Nadia Kasvin, co-founder and director of US Together, a central Ohio refugee resettlement agency, and her staff began calling local refugee families to let them know their relatives wouldn’t be arriving.

“It was really devastating, really heartbreaking to tell them their family wouldn’t be coming,” and they didn’t know when they might be able to come, Kasvin said.

The Obama administration had set a goal for fiscal year 2017 of admitting 110,000 refugees. The Trump administration reduced that number to 50,000, lowering the cap to 45,000 for the current fiscal year. The State Department says this reduction is needed to make time for more vetting and to process a backlog of asylum applications from people already inside the United States.

Four months into the current fiscal year, resettlement groups anticipate fewer refugees will be allowed in the country than the 45,000 that Trump has said can come. The International Rescue Committee, for example, projects that 21,292 will be resettled by the time the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

Part of the reason for doubting the target will be hit, Kasvin said, is that twice as many refugees already should have come to the country so far in order to meet the cap.

From Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, only about 5,300 refugees arrived in the country, far short of the 11,250 that should have come in the first quarter, she said. If a similar number resettles each quarter, only about 21,200 refugees would be resettled by the end of the fiscal year, not the 45,000 Trump promised, Kasvin said.

“Every time these policies change, the refugee process is halted, and it’s not easy for them to pick it back up,” said Jennifer Nimer, a lawyer and executive director of the Columbus chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR. Health and other screenings expire and have to be redone, setting the travel and visa process back even further, she said.

The first two iterations of the ban listing countries whose citizens couldn’t enter were later challenged in federal courts and have expired. The third, which was issued in September and also barred North Koreans and Venezuelan officials, was allowed by the Supreme Court in December to go into effect while legal challenges against it continue. The nation’s top court is expected to take up the matter in April. Until then, it remains in effect.

The reasoning Trump cites for the bans has been consistent: security threats and the need to prevent terrorists from entering the country.

In the first ban, Trump pointed to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and said the subsequent review of the visa process didn’t do enough to stop similar attacks from foreigners entering the country.

“Numerous foreign-born individuals have been convicted or implicated in terrorism-related crimes since September 11, 2001, including foreign nationals who entered the United States after receiving visitor, student, or employment visas, or who entered through the United States refugee resettlement program,” the president wrote in the first executive order.

Data compiled by The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund and The Center for Investigative Reporting looked at 201 terrorist incidents in the U.S. from 2008-2016, tracking attacks that were carried out as well as plots that were foiled. There were 115 cases involving right-wing extremists ― from white supremacists to militias to “sovereign citizens” ― and 63 cases involving Islamist extremists. Another 19 cases were attributed to left-wing extremists, such as animal-rights proponents and eco-terrorists.

The analysis also showed that the main source of terrorism-type attacks during that time were white American males.

Nimer likewise pointed out there has been no data to show the countries included in Trump’s ban “are a particular threat.”

“There’s not any legitimate reason we should bar groups of people from uniting with family members,” she said.

Very few people from the restricted countries have been able to come in through waivers, Nimer said. It’s an option the Supreme Court allowed for refugees after the second ban was challenged. The waiver process has not been explained, which has left refugees and their attorneys struggling to figure out how to apply or what should be included in the applications. Waivers are granted at the discretion of consulates, Nimer said.

Further complicating the plight of refugees and resettlement agencies is Trump’s recently proposed immigration plan that would limit family-based immigration.

“It’s been kind of an evolving issue as things have changed,” Nimer said. “It’s still at this point separating families.”

Community Refugee and Immigration Services, a refugee resettlement agency in Columbus, hosted an event to commemorate the first ban’s anniversary on Jan. 31.

Refugees affected by the ban, including Hassan, spoke of the impact it has had on them and their loved ones.

Hassan said that when he talks to his mother, she says she is feeling ill and lonely because she can’t communicate with others at the camp.

“When your mom is suffering … this is the time she needs you,” he said. “It really piles on the pain.”

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Columbus, Ohio

Somali refugee lobbies D.C. with a simple message: Let him bring his family home

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WASHINGTON — When Afkab Hussein decided to tell a room packed full of House and Senate staffers Thursday how the 2017 Muslim and refugee bans affected him, the Somali native brought with him a translator to help tell his story.

In the end, though, in a quiet voice that had only spoken English for a little more than two years, the North Side resident decided he needed to tell his story himself.

Hussein, 30, came to the United States in September 2015, after spending most of his life in a refugee camp in Kenya. He left behind a pregnant wife. In 2016, his wife, Rhodo, and son, Abdullahi, were cleared to come to the United States, but before they could get here, President Donald Trump issued an executive order that banned all refugee admissions and temporarily halted travel from seven majority-Muslim countries, including Somalia.

That ban was overturned, but a second executive order has effectively kept Hussein and his family in limbo.

Now, Hussein is in Washington on the one-year anniversary of the original ban, telling anyone who will listen how the policy has impacted his family. On Saturday, he’ll be part of a protest in front of the White House — yet another plea aimed at bringing his family to the United States.

Hussein is a plaintiff in a class–action lawsuit fighting the second travel ban that barred the entry of refugees from 11 countries — nine majority Muslim. Refugees are typically permitted into the United States legally because they fear persecution based on race, religion, nationality or political opinions.

Trump has argued that the refugee program is vulnerable to being abused by terrorists. Under his administration, Trump has set a refugee admissions ceiling of 45,000 for this fiscal year. So far, they’re on pace to accept some 15,000 refugees — far lower than the threshold set.

“This is historically low,” said Adam Bates, policy council for the International Refugee Assistance Program.

The translator who accompanied Hussein, Sowdo Mohamud, also of Columbus, had her own story. She came to Ohio five years ago, but even before that, she knew she wanted to be in Ohio: While waiting to come to the United States in 2010, she’d met a doctoral student from Ohio State who told her glowingly about the state.

“I had a Buckeye necklace even before I knew what a Buckeye was,” she said in an interview. She still remembers watching her first OSU football game; she thought it was rugby until her friends set her straight.

“I knew Columbus would be my home from the get-go,” she said.

Mohamud, who became a U.S. citizen Tuesday, said the refugee ban hurt her, too; she had hoped to bring some of her family to be with her in Columbus but found those hopes dashed. More directly, it cost her work: She’d been a caseworker for Somalis coming into the United States. Without refugees, there was no one to help.

She said she and the Somali community she represents have played by the rules. They came legally, going through intense scrutiny to get here. They have jobs. They contribute.

“I always looked forward to coming here and being a part of this country,” she said. But the ban made her feel as if that feeling was not reciprocated.

For Hussein, who works as a long-haul trucker, the problem is stark: He has yet to hold his boy, now 2.

Instead, on his drives across the country that he now calls home, he will occasionally pull out his phone and kiss the photo of the wide–eyed toddler staring back from his home screen. He’ll call Rhodo and the two will talk for hours as the states pass by through his truck window.

Since he’s lived in the United States, he’s been able to send them the money to move to Nairobi. Still, the two can’t stay in Kenya. They remain refugees.

“If they came here, I’d feel very happy,” he said.

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