Hamse Warfa, the highest-ranking African immigrant in the Minnesota state government, currently serves as the Deputy Commissioner for Workforce Development at the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

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Hamse Warfa, deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, will be joining the Biden administration as a senior advisor to the State Department at the end of the month, making him the highest-ranking Somali presidential appointee in Washington. 

January 17 is Hamse’s last official day with DEED, where he served as the state’s highest-ranking African official. As the highest-ranking Somali in the Biden administration and the only Somali advisor in the State Department, he will play a key role in promoting democracy worldwide and in refugee admissions in the United States.

In a statement released by DEED Monday, Hamse thanked President Joe Biden for the appointment. He added: “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.”

Hamse joins the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, a State Department office responsible for providing protections for displaced people. The Bureau also advises the president in determining the number of refugees the United States will accept in a given year. The refugee resettlement cap had previously been slashed to record lows under the Trump administration. 

The Bureau also provides funding to resettlement agencies based on how many refugees they resettled in a year. Because arrivals were down under Trump, agencies struggled to continue operating. Resettlement agencies in Minnesota have spent the last year rebuilding infrastructure, hoping for more support from the State Department.

The Biden administration organized a Summit for Democracy on December 9–10, which brought together 275 participants to discuss today’s threats to democracy. Hamse said his role at the State Department is part of the commitment discussed at the summit to promote democracy and human rights worldwide.

Hamse first came to the United States as a Somali refugee when he was a teenager in 1994. He studied political science and organizational management, and built a career in both the public and private sector. In 2014, he published his autobiography, America Here I Come: A Somali Refugee’s Quest for Hope. As a Bush Fellow in 2016, Hamse 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 marginalized people.

In 2019, Governor Tim Walz appointed Hamse as deputy commissioner, responsible for Minnesota’s employment, training, and grant-making programs. Hamse prioritized addressing economic disparities for communities of color 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 Hamse’s appointment. “Hamse and his team at DEED 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.”

Hamse wrote an op-ed for Sahan Journal in October about the role the state has played in refugee resettlement. He urged a new generation to step up and pursue roles in diplomacy and global leadership, especially in the wake of the Afghan refugee crisis.

“To meet the moment,” he wrote, “our diplomacy and global leadership also need new images, symbols, nuanced stories, and a new cadre of diverse leaders, including people who have lived and experienced global trauma.”

Hibah Ansari is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.