Opinion: If Trump’s executive order had been in effect when I was a boy, I would be dead. And so would my family

People gather outside of the U.S. District Court in New York, where a judge issued an emergency stay for those detained at airports, on January 28.
(Andrew Gombert / EPA)

Nearly 25 years ago, my family emigrated from Somalia to the United States after our country fell apart because of civil war. When the killings began, our family dispersed all over the country just to survive. I was 13 years old.

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

My brother, who was a year younger, and I walked 12 days from the southern port city of Kismanyo to the Kenya border. There we spent time in the refugee camp while separated from the rest of our family. The refugee camp did not have enough food and it was not safe. Sugar, oil and rice were routinely stolen out of the United Nations storage bunkers and sold on the black market. This left flour as the only source of stable diet at the camp. Young boys started to disappear, purportedly abducted back to Somalia to become child soldiers. Rumors of women being gang raped swirled around camp.


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.

Every person living in the camp 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 eventually given this opportunity because my grandfather worked at the U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu for more than 30 years. After nearly nine years of being dispersed around the world, we were reunited in Minneapolis.

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 a 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.

I worked hard, and a decade later, I graduated from the University of Minnesota Institute of Technology with a degree in electrical engineering. I joined Lockheed Martin Corp. and I contributed to the development of mission computers for F-16, F-22 and F-35 fighter jets. I later 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. My wife, whom I met in Minneapolis, has a similar story as well.

But, the truth is, had rules like the ones President Trump signed on Jan. 27 been in effect, my entire family and that of my wife would likely have never made it out alive. Or we would have spent the rest of our days suffering 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 is an engineer and a candidate for Congress in Minnesota’s 5th district.

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