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Minnesota official becomes Biden’s highest-ranking Somali appointee

25th Feb 2022
Minnesota official becomes Biden’s highest-ranking Somali appointee

Harun Nasrullah

Minnesota official Hamse Warfa has been appointed Senior Adviser to the State Department, making him the top Somali American appointee in Washington.

Warfa, who served as Minnesota’s highest-ranking African official when he was appointed the Deputy Commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development three years ago, will now be the highest-ranking Somali in the Biden Administration and the only Somali adviser in the State Department. He will play a key role in refugee admissions into the US.

“As I prepare to represent all people of the United States, I am blessed by the colleagues, friends and family who supported my public service,” said Warfa.

Warfa joins the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, a State Department office responsible for providing protection for displaced people. The Bureau also advises the President to determine the number of refugees the US will accept in a given year.

Additionally, the Bureau provides funding to resettlement agencies based on how many refugees they resettle each year. As arrivals dropped under Trump, agencies struggled to operate. Resettlement agencies in Minnesota have spent the last year rebuilding infrastructure, hoping for more support from the State Department.

Warfa first came to the US as a refugee when he was a teenager in 1994. He studied political science and organisational management and built a career in both the public and private sectors. In 2014, he published his autobiography, America Here I Come: A Somali Refugee’s Quest for Hope. As a Bush Fellow in 2016, Warfa founded BanQu, a blockchain service to provide access to credit and bank services for refugees. He also founded a consulting group to address poverty and economic opportunities for marginalised people.

The 2016 election season inspired Warfa to become more active in civic engagement. “The strong anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim policies and actions, motivated me to organise and get more involved at the state level,” Warfa said. “Some of the Minnesota gubernatorial candidates talked about shutting down the refugee program, and, in some cases, created fear about refugees in Minnesota, especially about Minnesota’s Muslim, Somali community.”

In 2019, Governor Tim Walz appointed Hamse as Deputy Commissioner, responsible for Minnesota’s employment, training, and grant-making programs. Warfa prioritised addressing economic disparities for communities of colour in the state and established the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs in 2020.

“I am confident Hamse will serve the people of the United States with the same integrity, policy expertise, and collaborative leadership that he provided for the people of Minnesota,” Walz said in a statement announcing Warfa’s appointment. “Hamse and his team at DEED [Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development] advocated for the economic well-being of all Minnesotans during the pandemic and focused on ensuring workers and businesses had the resources and training to survive and thrive.”

(Photo credit: Bush Foundation/Commons)

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