Hours before Congress' swearing-in ceremony on Thursday, the member-elect from Minnesota's 5th Congressional District flew in to the capital to begin the next chapter of her life. Ilhan Omar's tweet about arriving in Washington DC highlights how far she's come since arriving in the United States.
"23 years ago, from a refugee camp in Kenya, my father and I arrived at an airport in Washington DC," Omar wrote. "Today, we return to that same airport on the eve of my swearing in as the first Somali-American in Congress."
Hers is truly a stunning story. Omar and her family became refugees in 1991 when they fled to Kenya, escaping the Somali Civil War. In a video made about her election to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2016, Omar spoke about how she and her family fled Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, in the middle of the night after narrowly escaping death at the hands of soldiers. She remembers "actually walking over dead bodies... seeing debris and buildings that are fallen apart, landmarks of hotels that had movie theaters that we used to go by and were no longer standing tall."
They lived in Kenya's Utango refugee camp for four years. Utango had only recently opened, and it was characterized by inadequate sanitation and stopgap facilities, the Guardian reports, such as "tents or makeshift huts" for refugees to sleep in.
"It was a very ... isolated camp," Omar said in her video. "We weren't allowed to have movement into the city." Her job was to fetch water and wood from neighboring cities.
In 1996, her family — consisting of Omar, her single father, and her six siblings — were accepted as refugees in the United States' resettlement program and moved to Virginia. Omar was 12 years old at the time and entered the sixth grade in Virginia before her family relocated to Minnesota.
Twenty-five years later, at the age of 37, she and Rashida Tlaib became the first Muslim women elected to the U.S. Congress. Omar is a staunch progressive; she campaigned on Medicare for All, protecting DACA, abolishing ICE, student debt forgiveness, a $15 minimum wage, and affordable housing.
She and other progressives like Ro Khanna and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have already declared that they will vote against a "pay-as-you-go" rules package that would prevent the House from increasing the deficit with expensive policies unless they also come with increased revenue or spending cuts elsewhere. The GOP eliminated the rule in 2011 and then passed a $1.5 trillion tax cut that ballooned the deficit in 2017.
In a Wednesday night statement, per HuffPost, Omar called the "pay-as-you-go" rules "artificial constraints" that would stifle a progressive agenda.
"The American dream is about having opportunities, about having the chance to set the course of what your future would look like," Omar said in her 2016 video. "The American dream that I had and that my family had coming to the United States made it seem like progress and prosperity would be easy... The reality of the American dream I find myself in is that it's a work in progress."
Later on Thursday, she'll officially join Congress and begin tinkering with the opportunities afforded by the American dream herself.