President Donald Trump has placed renewed scrutiny on old claims that Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat in Congress, supposedly married her brother, thus committing immigration fraud. It’s sparked a Google trend with people wanting to know whether it’s true.
The claim lacks evidence and has never been proven. It has also not been thoroughly debunked, however, despite the nation’s most prominent news organizations giving it a try. According to the New York Times, “no proof has emerged substantiating these claims.” The claim, which first surfaced against Omar in 2016, is getting renewed attention as Trump’s rhetoric escalates against Omar and other women of color in Congress.
“There’s a lot of talk about the fact that she was married to her brother,” Trump said when asked if his administration was investigating the claim. “I know nothing about it. I hear she was married to her brother.”
However, Politifact and various other reputable sites – including hometown newspapers of Omar’s in Minnesota – have investigated this claim in depth and all have come to the conclusion that the claim can not be proven nor thoroughly debunked.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune wrote that it “could neither conclusively confirm nor rebut the allegation that he (one of Omar’s husbands) is Omar’s sibling,” Politifact noted. Snopes.com similarly found that “the evidence uncovered thus far isn’t definitive enough to come down on one side or the other.” PolitiFact wrote that it was also “unable to reach a conclusion during the 2018 election cycle.” You can read the Star-Tribune’s exhaustive investigation into this matter here.
Here’s what you need to know:
Ilhan Omar Has Adamantly Denied Claims That She Married Her Brother But Lack of Records Makes it Tough to Dispel or Prove
Ilhan Omar has denounced the claims, calling them “disgusting lies,” the Associated Press reports. She said the allegations had a political motivation as they first sprung up during her campaign for Congress.
In 2016, Alpha News traced the origins of the claim that Omar supposedly married her brother. The claim was first made on a site called Somali Spot, where a user alleged that Omar “married her brother in order for him to immigrate to the US, despite the fact she’s been married to the father of her three children for over a decade.”
According to Alpha News, another website, Powerlineblog, which is a conservative blog, then repeated the information, giving it further attention.
Powerline obtained marriage records showing that Omar married a man named Ahmed Hirsi in 2002; he’s the father of her children and is mentioned on her campaign website, according to Alpha News. The Powerline blog post, which is still up, stated that the Somali Spot user claimed Omar “married her brother Ahmed Nur Said Elmi in 2009, implying that the latter marriage assisted his entry into the United States. Her brother was a British citizen.” The Somali Spot blog post was later deleted. No evidence was presented for the claim.
The Associated Press reports that the claims derived from conservative bloggers in Minnesota who also alleged that Omar was married to both men at once, which would be illegal if true.
The AP noted: “A timeline provided by Omar, and detailed marriage and divorce records, suggest she was not married to two men at once.”
The marriage records come from Hennepin County in Minnesota. The AP reports that they document that Omar applied for a marriage license in 2002 to marry Ahmed Abdisalan Hirsi, her current husband, who was called Ahmed Abdisalan Aden at that time. However, a marriage certificate was never issued at that time. According to the AP, Omar says they initially married in a Muslim “faith tradition” instead.
She had children with him and the marriage ended in 2008, she told AP, which reported that she then married Ahmed Nur Said Elmi, a British citizen, in 2009, per the Hennepin County marriage certificate, AP reports. According to AP, Omar told the wire service, the couple was divorced formally in 2017 but the relationship ended six years earlier in their faith tradition. She then got back together with Hirsi and had another child with him, per AP. They legally married in 2018 after she was already divorced from Elmi.
It’s Elmi who is supposedly Omar’s brother, according to the conservative bloggers. The AP did say that “sorting out these claims is difficult without access to immigration records, birth certificates or other documents that could prove parentage or family lineage.” The AP said her campaign has not been able to provide birth certificates because of the unrest in Somalia and she hasn’t provided a list of siblings (but has multiple.)
“Insinuations that Ahmed Nur Said Elmi is my brother are absurd and offensive,” Ilhan Omar told AP.
There is some crossover in the biographies of Elmi and Ilhan Omar. Politifact noted: “Little is known about Elmi, other than that Omar has referred to him as a ‘British citizen’ and that he attended high school in the Minneapolis area and, like Omar, later attended North Dakota State University.”
According to the New York Times, Omar “filed joint tax returns in 2014 and 2015 with Mr. Hirsi while she was still legally married to Mr. Elmi.” She paid a fine for that. The Times also reported that Elmi, per the couple’s marriage certificate, is three years younger than Omar, whereas her mother died when Omar was 2.
Omar told the Star Tribune: “It’s really strange, right, to try to prove a negative. If someone was asking me, do I have a brother by that name, I don’t. If someone was asking … are there court documents that are false … there is no truth to that.”
The Star Tribune also reported that Omar “showed a reporter cellphone photos of documents from her family’s U.S. entry in 1995 after fleeing Somalia’s civil war.” Although she wouldn’t provide copies, the newspaper reported that they “appeared to list her father, siblings and Omar by order of birth, with Omar as the youngest of seven children.” Ahmed Nur Said Elmi was not listed in the documents.
“For someone like me, who left a war-torn country at the age of 8, who got refugee status to come to America, where in the world am I finding a sibling 15 years, 20 years later to seek to do what people accuse me of?” Omar said to the Star Tribune.
According to the Star Tribune investigation, “some of the original social media accounts linking Elmi to Omar after their split in 2011 appear to have been removed” and it was hard to get documents from Somalia because of the unrest there. She wouldn’t give the newspaper her tax or immigration records. The Tribune notes that, in her 2017 divorce, Omar stated she had not had contact with Elmi since 2011, but conservative activists have alleged that old social media posts and photos showed otherwise. The Star-Tribune wrote that it was unable to authenticate the original social media posts, however, that now appear as screenshots on the Internet. Her relatives have not spoken on the allegations, the newspaper reported.
You can read more about Omar’s family here.