On the 10th of January, Ahmed Hussen was sworn in as the newest member of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Cabinet as supervisor to federal immigration in Canada. The department shift came after John McCallum left his position as Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) for a new ambassadorship to Beijing, China.
The most remarkable part about Hussen being selected for this position is that he himself came to Canada as a refugee, after fleeing civil war in Somalia at only sixteen years old. Hussen said to reporters on Tuesday, “The story of Canada is the story of immigration, and I’m especially proud and humbled that the prime minister would task me with this important role.” He also said how proud he was to support a country that “opens its doors and hearts to new immigrants and refugees,” given Canada’s history as a safe haven for those seeking asylum.
Following his arrival in 1993, Hussen received a Canadian education at a high school in Hamilton, Ontario. After graduation, he moved in with his brother who lived in Regent Park, a public housing project neighborhood in Toronto. In order to pay for his own tuition at York University, Hussen got a minimum wage job as a gas station attendant for which he had to commute two hours.
The experience of living in Regent Park is what got Hussen interested and involved in politics. He co-founded the neighborhood organization that fought for increasing public housing and secured a $500 million community redevelopment project. He was declared a “Person to Watch” in 2004 for all of the community work in Regent Park. Hussen quickly rose as a figure in politics, refugee and human rights law, and social activism. To date, Hussen’s career includes an MP position in York South-Weston as well as work with the Canadian-Somali Congress, among other accolades. He is the first Somali-Canadian to hold a seat in Parliament.
Hussen’s selection as Minister of IRCC is certainly one of power and influence, but friends closest to the political rookie have made it clear that his humble roots are never forgotten. In a recent conference from Parliament Hill, Hussen told reporters “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. 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.”
Friends and colleagues of Hussen often describe him as a “natural leader” not only in politics, but for the communities he serves. Indeed, Hussen views his public service as a chance to give back to the country that had welcomed him as a teenager and provide opportunities for newcomers to create a better future in Canada.
Following the U.S. presidential election of Donald Trump, Hussen is entering his position as Minister of the IRCC amidst rising anti-immigration sentiments coming from Canada’s southern neighbor. According to Ruby Latif, an associate of Hussen, he is precisely what Canada needs as a counter-action to the Trump administration rhetoric concerning immigration. Hussen will be taking over the immigration department previously led by veteran McCallum, who led the country’s efforts to bring close to 40,000 refugees from Syria to Canada during his 14 months in the position. Hussen’s unique experience as an immigrant to Canada not only provides knowledge in understanding immigration issues, but compassion. As Latif aptly pointed out, “[Canada] needs somebody who understands what’s happening to vulnerable people in vulnerable communities, especially with what’s happening across the border…somebody like Ahmed understands the issues of immigrants, visible minorities.”
Only time will tell what kind of impact Hussen will have on the future of Canadian immigration, but his exceptional track record working in immigration law and human rights advocacy is a strong indication Trudeau has chosen the right individual for the job.
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