Is Rep. Ilhan Omar the first refugee elected to Congress?

“The #116thCongress has SO much to be proud of,” Omar said Thursday on Twitter.

By RON KAMPEAS/JTA
January 7, 2019 07:45
1 minute read.
Ilhan Omar speaks at an election night results party in Minneapolis, Nov. 6, 2018.

Ilhan Omar speaks at an election night results party in Minneapolis, Nov. 6, 2018. . (photo credit: STEPHEN MATUREN / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)

 
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 WASHINGTON — Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., on her first day on the job as a congresswoman, posted a list of firsts that her class represents.

“The #116thCongress has SO much to be proud of,” Omar said Thursday on Twitter.
Among them, naturally enough, is what she and her colleague, Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., represent — the first Muslim women elected to Congress. But there’s a glaring error: Omar, who was born in Somalia, lists herself as the first refugee elected to the body.


Seffi Kogen, the Global Director of Young Leadership for the American Jewish Committee, counts at least four other lawmakers who in their lifetimes had refugee status, and two of them are Jewish:


* The late Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor who made human rights a hallmark of his leadership on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.


* Former Sen. Rudy Boschwitz, R-Minn., who as a toddler fled Nazi Germany with his family for the United States and who also has played a prominent role in human rights advocacy.


* Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., just retired, who is of Jewish descent, arrived in Florida as a child of a family fleeing Cuba.


* Rep. Joseph Cao, R-La., the first Vietnamese American elected to Congress, served one term (2009-2011).


I’d add former Republican Florida Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart, also born in Cuba to a family who fled after Fidel Castro seized power.


Two more errors on Omar’s list: Tlaib, whom she lists as the first Palestinian American; is preceded by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., and former Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H.


Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., is the youngest woman ever elected, at 29, but there have been plenty of younger men, starting with Richard Bland Lee, who was 28 when he joined the First Congress in 1789.

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