Connect with us

Columbus, Ohio

Somali refugee passes bar exam, runs for Ohio House

Published

on

Before Ismail Mohamad could become possibly the first Somali-born attorney licensed to practice in Ohio, he first had to convince his family that he was pursuing the right profession.

They knew he was tough, having escaped the violence of civil war in Somalia with his mother and seven older siblings when he was 5. They fled to Ethiopia, and later to Kenya, keeping up his education while facing challenges as refugees in an unstable region.

They knew he was smart, earning mostly A’s at Northland High School after arriving with his family in Columbus in early 2005 at age 12. Pushed by his mother, who stressed education to all of her children, he took college classes while at Northland and helped mediate disputes at the school.

But becoming a lawyer?

“There is a stigma with Somali parents, where almost all of them want their children to be doctors for some reason,” said Hodan Mohamad, one of Ismail’s five older sisters. “Mom wanted him to be a doctor.”

That was a problem, however. “I don’t like blood,” Ismail said.

Ismail’s decision to enter Ohio State University for a career in law, rather than medicine, troubled his family. But that anxiety faded away on Nov. 13, when Ismail raised his right hand and was sworn into the Ohio Bar.

Listen to the latest Buckeye Forum politics podcast

“There is a big push for immigrant families to want to be doctors and engineers,” Ismail, 25, said. But he knew coming out of high school those were not areas he wanted to pursue.

“Civil rights is a big issue of mine, making sure people’s rights are being protected, especially the immigrant community, the black community and really any under-represented communities.”

Ismail believes he is the first Somali-born lawyer licensed in Ohio, but confirming that is difficult. Neither the state nor local bar associations track such information. If he’s not No. 1, he’s definitely among the first.

Omar Hassan, director of the Somali Community Association of Ohio, said the Somali community is proud of Ismail, but he doesn’t think he’s the first in Ohio.

There have been others, Hassan said, specifically mentioning Hodan Siad, a Somali-American from Columbus who graduated from the University of Cincinnati College of Law in 2008.

Contacted by The Dispatch, Siad said she moved to Washington, D.C., to pursue government work and was never licensed in Ohio. She is licensed in Maryland and Washington.

The ability to affect lives drove Ismail to law, and, he said, also has him exploring politics. He is running for the Ohio House in the 25th District, challenging Rep. Bernadine Kennedy Kent, D-Columbus.

If elected, Ismail would become the nation’s second Somali-American state lawmaker, following 34-year-old Ilhan Omar of Minneapolis, who took office in January.

Ismail’s road to the Ohio Bar was not an easy one.

Violence first pushed his family out of the Somali capital of Mogadishu, and then, as civil war spread, his mother decided the country was no longer safe. The family fled to neighboring Ethiopia in late 1997, where they lived about four years before going to Kenya.

“In Ethiopia, the police were better but the nation was not welcoming,” Hodan Mohamad said. “In Kenya, the nation was welcoming, but the police; when you go out you have to show proof of your age or you will be caught and have to pay money.”

Ismail’s father, Cali Casayr, came to the United States in 1997 through a visa lottery, but the rest of the family couldn’t afford to join him right away. Casayr spent years working in Columbus, sending money to help support the family.

“My parents never had a lot of money, but they always knew the value of education and made sure their kids were going to school. Mom did a lot of different work for us to get the best education she could,” Ismail said.

Only those who could pay for one got an education in Kenya, Ismail said, and that helped him transition to school in Columbus.

“That’s something taken for granted in the U.S., but coming from a background where people literally have to do whatever it takes to get an education, you value that much more,” he said.

Ismail settled into school and knew he had to work hard. His mother, Shamis Mohamad, said she gave her kids a seven-year window after arriving in the United States to integrate, educate and find career paths.

“I’m happy now. I feel like everyone has become successful,” she said.

Ismail said there were some struggles in school, including fights among African ethnic groups. “That’s when I became active in the different nonprofits I worked with, both in high school and in college. The need for integrating the Somali community to the broader community was a big push that I championed.”

That included trips to the principal’s office, where he would help interpret and “try to mediate conflicts between different ethnicities or for Somalis who didn’t know what was going on.”

As Ismail moved on to Ohio State, the family tried to talk him out of a legal career, Hodan Mohamad said, speaking at Our Helpers, a non-profit agency she started in 2012 to help immigrants, particularly Somalis, integrate and find assistance.

“But he insisted on doing it. He said, ‘This is what I want to do and I’m going to make it happen.’”

At one point, Hodan said, the family had a meeting, concerned that Ismail wasn’t reading enough or struggling enough. They questioned whether he was actually going to school.

“He was like, “Mom, just wait; I’m going to invite you to my graduation,’” Hodan said.

“The day we were going to his graduation ceremony was really a big deal and really a surprise for all of the family.”

Now, mom says she is very happy, noting there are a lot of doctors, but a big need for Somali lawyers. Plus, she said, her son can serve as an example to others in the community.

Being among the first Somali-American attorneys in Ohio means a lot, Ismail said. Even when he was still in law school, he said, he was already getting calls asking for help.

“It’s a lot of pressure,” he said. “I don’t know who is giving out my cell number, but a lot of people have been calling me around the city. I’m currently not charging them anything. There is a big need and people are not able to pay. They are taken advantage of with legal fees that are extremely high.”

Ismail hopes to start his own practice, though for now he’s more focused on his run for the Ohio House.

“I see the issues people are dealing with, and I know I can be a voice for others in various communities,” he said.

jsiegel@dispatch.com

Columbus, Ohio

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

Published

on

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.”

Continue Reading

Columbus, Ohio

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

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

Columbus, Ohio

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

Published

on

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.”

Continue Reading

TRENDING