From refugee to the White House: A woman’s American Dream realized
We met Fatima Noor, Policy Assistant for Immigration Policy and Rural Affairs at the White House Domestic Policy Council
In the latest edition of our series profiling Muslim Americans working at the White House, we met Fatima Noor, Policy Assistant for Immigration Policy and Rural Affairs at the White House Domestic Policy Council.
Fatima has an extraordinarily sad story, but with a happy ending. Born in Kismayo, Somalia, Fatima’s family were forced to flee the devastating civil war to a refugee camp on Kenya’s east coast, near the port of Mombasa.
As a toddler, she lived in a blue tent provided by United Nations agency, UNHCR. Soon after, the organization closed the overcrowded camp and her parents were forced to make the agonizing choice of whether to bring her back with them to their war-torn country or send her to live far away in a Scandinavian country with a distant relative.
They chose the latter in an effort to guarantee her safety and to give her an opportunity for an education and a better life.
The decision didn’t come easy; they didn’t know when they would see their daughter again. After making their decision, she was sent to Denmark while they sailed back to Somalia in a small boat.
Fatima eventually settled in the the town of Lyngby , just outside the capital Copenhagen, where she went to school, learned to read and write fluently in Danish and eventually became a citizen.
In spite of her progress, she said she felt a hole in her heart yearning for the parents and brother she had separated from.
Uniting the family
In the early 2000s, her father first resettled in the United States as a refugee, in Texas, where he worked long hours as a truck driver.
The job gave him the opportunity to explore the U.S. He started the process of uniting his family by bringing his daughter Fatima from Denmark and his wife and sons from Somalia.
They were finally reunited in 2005, thanks to the efforts of the United States Citizenship and Immigration (USCIS) . Soon afterwards, her dad bought a house in the same hometown of American icon Elvis Presley—Memphis, Tennessee which is situated on the bank of the Mississippi River.
She recalls proudly how she stood in front of a U.S. flag and swore the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America.
Her ambitions didn’t stop there. She was accepted at the University of Memphis where she impressed her college professors. Days before her graduation, the University faculty and leadership recommended her for selective Presidential Appointments with in the Administration.
Fatima began her career in federal government as the Special Assistant to Director of U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services – little did she know she would find herself at the White House less than a year later. In a climate of increasing anti-Islam rhetoric, especially during the presidential election season, Fatima says “it’s disheartening to have my intentions and allegiance questioned when I have taken the oath twice to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.”
All government employers, including the president, are required by U.S. law to swear allegiance to the United States and its continuation upon serving. But Fatima did it twice; first as a new citizen and second as a White House staffer.
In her current role she is deeply involved in the Administration’s efforts to welcome and integrate refugees and immigrants from around the world, including Somalia. She feels grateful for the job opportunity and sees her role as a means of giving back to her new country.
“I was born in Somalia, grew up in Denmark but I feel 100 percent American,” she told us in a soft voice, but with a strong American accent.
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