[2019 Elections\Immigrant Election Wave]
Safiya Khalid is the youngest person and the first Somali-American to be elected to Lewiston City Council in Maine. She weathered withering online attacks from outside of her community, but remained resolute in her duty to serve…The new city councilwoman will focus on schools, affordable housing, and other important issues.”
Safiya Khalid, 23, is the first Somali-American to be elected to Maine’s Lewiston City Council. She represents the growing number of immigrants and refugees who have won elections and achieved important firsts in America politics in 2018–and now in 2019.
In the 2019 elections, former refugees won big in towns across the United States. Many were first-time candidates and achieved historical firsts in their local communities.
Faith Williams, Associate Director, Government Relations & Advocacy at the National Council on Jewish Women and Co-Chair of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, said: “Our democracy is strongest when it reflects the diversity of its people. In darkness of the administration’s constant attacks on immigrants, refugees, and people of color, these newly elected leaders shine a beacon of hope.”
Meet the new elected officials with refugee backgrounds in the United States:
In Ohio, Bhuwan Pyakurel became the first elected official in the United States of Nepali-Bhutanese background when he won election to Reynoldsburg City Council. Pyakurel grew up in a refugee camp, and decided to run for office the day he became a U.S. citizen: “America has not only given us a physical space to live, but they have opened their heart. On that day when I became a citizen, when the federal judge spoke about the importance of vote, that struck me in my heart. Yes, this is my duty, and this is my responsibility as a citizen. So that is the day I decided.”
Reynoldsburg voters also elected three African-American women (Meredith Lawson-Rowe, Shanette Strickland, Angie Jenkins) to council this election, achieving another round of historic firsts.
Safiya Khalid is the youngest person and the first Somali-American to be elected to Lewiston City Council in Maine. She weathered withering online attacks from outside of her community, but remained resolute in her duty to serve. When Khalid told her mother about the win, she said: “I knew you could do it…. There was a reason I moved to Lewiston all those years ago.” The new city councilwoman will focus on schools, affordable housing, and other important issues.
Minnesota’s Nadia Mohamad is also the first Somali-American, and the first American Muslim, to be elected to the St. Louis Park City Council. Mohamad says her election shows that the electorate of St. Louis Park believes in inclusivity “in the day-to-day decision-making levels in the city.” Her priorities include youth engagement, housing, and action on climate change.
In Syracuse, New York, incoming city councilman Chol Majok has become the first former refugee to be elected to public office. Originally from South Sudan, Majok won a difficult primary against more established candidates including Emad Rahim, another refugee, and then cruised to victory in November. Majok’s campaign strategy was simple, door-to-door conversations: “Part of what we should do is take a walk in the very places that we want to make decisions about,” he said. When he did, he saw poverty in his district in a different light. “It did not make sense until I was canvassing. Until I was knocking door to door. I was almost in tears. Just to see the conditions children are living in, the condition houses are in.”
In addition to these refugees making history, religious minorities also racked up historic firsts in the 2019 elections. In Virginia, Ghazala Hashmi, Abrar Omeish, Lisa Zargarpur and Buta Biberaj became the first Muslim women to hold elected office in the state.
Ghazala Hashmi was elected to the state Senate after beating the incumbent, Republican Glen Sturtevant. An immigrant from India, she campaigned on issues like gun violence prevention, workforce development, education, healthcare, and protecting the environment. In the Virginia Senate, Hashmi wants to create paid family leave programs that “provide security for workers who need to temporarily take time away to care for themselves or a loved one.”
Abrar Omeish was elected to the Fairfax County School Board. She is the youngest person to be elected in Virginia history, and the first Libyan-American elected official nationwide (according to her campaign). Her priorities for the county’s schools include mental health support, assistance to homeless students, and expanding parental involvement.
Lisa Zargarpur was elected to the Prince William County School Board. Her priorities include: “address[ing] the overcrowding in our schools, [making] sure all of our students have access to quality classes that will prepare them for the future and work[ing] on attracting and retaining teachers through competitive salaries.”
An immigrant from Montenegro, Buta Biberaj is Loudoun County’s new commonwealth’s attorney, defeating Republican incumbent Nicole Wittmann. Describing the perspective she brings to the office, Biberaj said: “We have a lot of people who have been in that office for an extended period of time who tap fear, fear, fear, and who suggest that if you try to incorporate justice, then you’re going to make the community unsafe, and that’s not the case.”
“This is what we will miss out on when we restrict refugee admissions,” said Reverend John L. McCullough, President and CEO of Church World Service. “The vitality, passion, and lived experiences of these elected officials will bring new perspectives to our democracy, and keep the American experiment alive. Our country is stronger when we have political representation that looks like and comes from our local communities, reflecting the diverse faces and backgrounds of our country.”
“Congratulations to all of the candidates who are bringing diversity, fresh perspectives, and a love of community to their new offices. America needs and values your service,” added McCullough.
The Interfaith Immigration Coalition is made up of 53 national, faith-based organizations brought together across many theological traditions with a common call to seek just policies that lift up the God-given dignity of every individual. In partnership, we work to protect the rights, dignity, and safety of all refugees and migrants.
For more information on the Interfaith Immigration Coalition logon to http://www.interfaithimmigration.org/