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 knew they wouldn’t see their daughter for nearly 10 years.
After making their decision, she was shipped to Denmark while they sailed back to Somalia in a small boat.
Fatima eventually settled into the small town of Alvey, 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
Her wish to reunite with her family was finally answered 13 years later when her father sent notice that his application for asylum in the United States was granted as part of a program for refugees.
Her father first settled 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 son from Somalia.
They were finally reunited in 2005, thanks to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Program. 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.
Good fortune remained on the side of the family as they were granted approval for citizenship on the day of her high school graduation.
She recalls proudly how she, her parents and brother 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. They were so taken by her story, they recommended her for a position at the White House, where she now works as policy assistant for Immigration Policy and Rural Affairs at the White House Domestic Policy Council.
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.
Her job puts her in direct contact with refugees from Somalia and elsewhere where she helps them to assimilate in the United States. 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.