January 12, 2017 — In how many countries could a 16-year-old refugee from war-torn Somalia work his way to one of the highest government jobs in about 25 years?
The Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s new federal immigration minister, is a shining example of exactly what immigrants can achieve here.
His public service work began just a few years after arriving in the country, and his rise through the political ranks has not stopped since.
The appointment heralds a new era for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRRC), with a man in charge who knows the plight of an immigrant and refugee like no other – because he once was one.
After arriving in Canada in 1993 and settling in Toronto, Hussen became the first Somali-Canadian elected to parliament in October 2015.
Hussen replaces John McCallum, a steady hand who has guided Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada through a busy and demanding period for the past almost two years and now becomes Canada’s ambassador to China.
“As members of parliament and members of the cabinet, each of us coming into public life are informed by their different experiences that they bring to the table,” Hussen said after he was sworn in.
“And I’m no different in that sense. I’ll bring my experience as an immigrant to Canada, but also an immigration lawyer, someone who worked many, many years before running for office as a community activist, a community organizer and a community advocate.”
Hussen began public service in the Hamilton-Wentworth social services office after leaving high school.
With a history degree from York University under his belt, he went on to co-found the Regent Park Community Council in 2002, playing an important role in raising $500 million for a project that revitalized the community.
Hussen then worked as an assistant to Dalton McGuinty, then Liberal leader of the opposition on the provincial scene in Ontario, who went on to become premier in 2003.
He then went to law school at the University of Ottawa, getting his call to the Ontario bar in 2012 and forming a practice in Toronto that specialized in the areas of criminal, immigration, refugee and human rights law.
During that time, he also became national president of the Canadian Somali Congress which under his initiative, partnered with the Canadian International Peace Project and Canadian Jewish Congress to establish the Canadian Somali-Jewish Mentorship Project, the first of its kind in the world.
Having testified on Somali radicalization to the U.S. Homeland Security Committee in 2011, Hussen’s experience south of the border will be crucial with Donald Trump’s inauguration just days away.
Hussen comes into the role during a period of flux for the immigration system in Canada.
Important changes have recently been made to the Express Entry System, and the family class. A new Global Skills Visa is being formulated and further modifications to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program are expected this year alongside the ongoing work needed to bring in Syrian and Iraqi refugees.
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