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Why Trump’s executive order on immigrants is un-American: a Somali family’s story

REUTERS/Steve Dipaola
Activists gather on Sunday at Portland International Airport to protest against President Donald Trump's executive action travel ban.

Nearly 25 years ago, my family emigrated from Somalia to America. We had the opportunity because my grandfather worked at the U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu for over 30 years.

Our story begins in Somalia when the country fell apart because of civil war, the killings began and our family dispersed all over the country just to survive. My wife, whom I met in Minneapolis, has a similar story.

One of my brothers and I walked 12 days from the southern port city of Kismanyo to the Kenya border.

My mother fled to central Somalia with six of my brothers and sisters and a number of extended family members.

Father stranded in Kuwait

My father was stranded in Kuwait, where he had gone two years before to find work. He could not come back because there was no country for him to go back to.

I spent time with my brother in the refugee camp while separated from rest of our family. The refugee camp did not have enough food and it was not safe.

In the camp, every person there dreamed of one thing: to get to America. We saw it as a land of opportunity and freedom where if you studied, worked hard and looked out for your neighbors, you could make any of your dreams, and those of your children, come true.

My family was finally reunited in America.

Placed in ninth grade, not knowing English alphabet

Upon arrival, I was placed in a ninth-grade class in high school because I was 15 years old. I didn’t know the English alphabet and I had huge gap in my elementary education in Somalia. To make up for this, I attended high school during the day and took additional classes at the local community literacy education center.

Jamal Abdulahi

Ten years later, I graduated from the University of Minnesota Institute of Technology with a degree in electrical engineering. A few years later, I completed an MBA while working full time as an engineer and raising a family.

I’m proud of my country. I’m proud of the fact that it took a refugee in and gave him the opportunity to thrive and repay its generosity.

A different America

But the truth is, had rules like the ones Donald Trump signed on Jan. 27 been in effect, my entire family and that of my then future wife would likely have never made it out alive or spent the rest of our days in a refugee camp. That America is not one that people the world over dream of living in.

That would be an America that does not live up to its greatness but instead huddles inside its walls fearful of the outside world and its own people.

I believe in a different type of America — an America that has the moral standing to stand up to tyranny and terrorism.

We can do better, and we will do better. 

Jamal Abdulahi is the father of four daughters and an engineer. He plans to run for Congress in Minnesota’s 5th district if/when Keith Ellison becomes DNC chair.

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Robin Rainford on 01/30/2017 - 11:34 am.

    A nation of the law

    A US visa or green card is an agreement made between the federal government and the individual. It is not a ticket that can be revoked at will or change the terms without notice. People will end up having to buy another international flight after this period of redundant vetting is finished. I am horrified that travellers are denied legal counsel in this country.
    I have been detained for having the wrong visa and it is stressful and confusing. At the time I thought ‘this would never happen in America,’ So heartbreaking.

    • Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 01/30/2017 - 06:44 pm.


      What redundant vetting? There is no way to do a back ground on people from the countries involved.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 01/30/2017 - 07:24 pm.


        Of course there is. No one gets in without vetting.

        A big problem is that Trump and his apologists have no idea how the immigration process works.

      • Submitted by Bill Willy on 01/31/2017 - 01:06 am.

        Man oh man!

        That is one huge, bold, sweeping statement. So much so that, as an American, I feel compelled to ask a few questions about it and trust that you will reply with all the American honesty and integrity at your disposal (because the fate of the American Dream may hang in the balance, okay?).

        1) How do you KNOW that?

        (Do you work for any of our country’s immigration or intelligence agencies or are you intimately familiar with anyone who does who was willing to share that information with you?)

        2) If what you say is true, how could what the president has called “extreme vetting” work?

        (If there’s no way to do the necessary checks on people from those places the president is calling imminent threat hot zones, what is the secret vetting sauce the new administration has that will ensure we are all safer than we are now from those deranged people living in those countries whose only mission in life is to kill us?)

        3) How many people in America have been killed by radical Islamic terrorist immigrants since September 11th, 2001 (or before then) from the seven countries from which the president has banned travel?

        4) How many Americans have been been killed by refugees (from anywhere) in the past 35+ years?

        5) How many Americans have been murdered by Americans using legal or illegal guns since September 11th, 2001?

        6) How many Americans have died as a result of consuming the (totally legal) products manufactured and distributed by the American tobacco industry since September 11th, 2001?

        7) When it comes to saving American lives, which of the above do you consider the greatest threat in most urgent need of eradication?

  2. Submitted by joe smith on 01/30/2017 - 12:47 pm.

    Good, I’m glad there is more vetting for folks

    coming from areas that the USA has a hard time confirming the information and are training grounds for terrorists. I think they said 109 folks were detained, vetted and let in. Again good, I have no problem with detaining 109 folks out of thousands for an extra look… There was the same ban imposed on Iraq in 2011 and I didn’t see the liberal left losing their minds!! Perspective folks perspective….

  3. Submitted by Bill Willy on 01/30/2017 - 04:50 pm.

    Hey there Jamal

    Congratulations. Excellent “life” and practical work!

    And great communication of your (and your family’s) story. I doubt anyone could find a better example of what those who think America’s existing immigration policies are working just fine are talking about.

    One thing I’m always struck by is how limited the experience of most of those who oppose those immigration policies is . . . By that I mean, when it comes to the “life experience” you’ve described, there are FEW “natural born Americans” who can conceive of finding themselves in the kind of circumstances you describe, let alone lay claim to having actually gone through anything remotely similar.

    Yet there they are . . . Making big pronouncements about how “messed up” our immigration system is (a system they really don’t know anything about, other than what they hear from other people who say the same things) and how “dangerous” everyone is who is trying to get away from war and into America.

    I’d love to hear from some of those people after they found themselves having to make it from wherever they live in the U.S. to someplace like, say, China, with no money, no connections, only the company of their brother to help them cope (because “the killings began and our family dispersed all over the country just to survive”) and, after their miraculous journey to and arrival in China, being tossed into a 9th grade classroom at age 15 without having any idea of what anyone was saying or reading or writing because they only spoke English.

    “Ten years later, I graduated from the University of Minnesota Institute of Technology with a degree in electrical engineering. A few years later, I completed an MBA while working full time as an engineer and raising a family.”

    I don’t know, but I’m not sure many of the Americans who are most strongly opposed to letting ANY refugees into the country would be able to report the same results from someplace like China, ten years later.

    Anyway . . . Congratulations again and thanks for the insight.

    And you’re right. What’s going on IS un-American. At least it is to almost everyone in America who actually thinks about what that means . . . It’s interesting to realize I have no doubt that you understand that better and much more clearly than way too many people who were born here ever will.

  4. Submitted by Robert Lilly on 01/31/2017 - 10:45 am.


    I seem to recall some Trump voters saying that we should have taken Trump seriously but not literally. Would be curious to know how they feel now. Will all of his campaign rhetoric be literally implemented? What line can he cross that would cause you to not support?
    Just wondering how far down we have to go before he unites us all.

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