On June 23 2019 pundit Dinesh D’Souza tweeted a very old claim: That Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) once married her own brother:
I’m trying to keep the @IlhanMN story straight. She marrried her brother to evade immigration laws? Then she divorced him and illicitly filed joint tax returns with another guy years before they were married? I was prosecuted for doing far less; why hasn’t she been indicted yet?
— Dinesh D'Souza (@DineshDSouza) June 23, 2019
In the tweet above, D’Souza claims without citation or evidence that Omar “married her brother to evade immigration laws,” and that “she divorced him and illicitly filed joint tax returns with another guy years before they were married.” In conclusion, D’Souza complains that he was “prosecuted for far less,” referencing his 2014 conviction and probation for violating campaign finance law.
D’Souza did not link to any material supporting his claim, but there are innumerable articles about the rumor. So common is the claim that it and its variation could reasonably be classed as proof by assertion, argument by repetition, or argumentum ad nauseam — “repeating an argument or a premise over and over again in place of better supporting evidence.”
Rumors that Omar married her brother appear to have originated with an August 2016 post published to the Power Line political blog, and its tenuous source seems to have been largely forgotten in the ensuing years. Originally, its author Scott Johnson explained how he first became aware of the rumor:
A reader has written us to point out that the Somali website Somalispot posted information last week suggesting Omar’s involvement in marriage and immigration fraud. The post notes that Omar married Ahmed Hirsi in 2002. Hirsi is the father of Omar’s three children. Omar is depicted with Hirsi and their children on Omar’s campaign website here.
The post further notes that 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. “As soon as Ilhan Omar married him,” the post continues, “he started university at her [a]lma mater North Dakota State University where he graduated in 2012. Shortly thereafter, he moved to Minneapolis where he was living in a public housing complex and was later evicted. He then returned to the United Kingdom where he now lives.”
Let me note here that Omar’s marriage to her brother, if it occurred in fact, is illegal under Minnesota law. I believe it would be void ab initio, as though it never occurred. If it occurred, I infer that it must have taken place for dishonest purposes.
Another article was published by City-Journal.org in September 2016 with the headline, “The Curious Case of Ilhan Omar.” This piece was framed as exploring the mystery of the allegations — but it was also authored by Johnson, the individual responsible for pushing the specious claims to begin with.
As an August 2016 MinnPost.com article noted, Johnson implicitly alleged that Omar had “married” her purported brother in order to illegally prioritize an immigration process:
The nature of the charge is easy to trace, however, and stems from the fact that immigration authorities give priority to U.S. citizens who request to bring in their noncitizen spouses to the United States. In practical terms, the immigration process for nonresidents can be cut by years if they are sponsored by citizen spouses.
That’s illegal, of course, and carries the potential for serious criminal consequences for both the sponsored immigrant and the petitioner. “Any individual who knowingly enters into a marriage for the purpose of evading any provision of the immigration laws shall be imprisoned for not more than five years, or fined not more than $250,000, or both,” writes Ilona Bray of Nola, a California-based company that specializes in immigration law and real estate.
An important point pertaining to those specific allegations was addressed in a June 22 2019 Star Tribune article about the years-old rumor. In a portion about the specific motives underlying the claim, the newspaper reported:
Siblings who petition for a U.S. visa for a noncitizen sibling have typically had to wait more than a dozen years to obtain the document, according to the U.S. State Department. Applications for a spouse carry a minimal waiting period, but Minnetonka-based immigration lawyer Steven Thal said examples of siblings fraudulently marrying to gain immigration benefits are nearly unheard of compared to cases of strangers marrying to get green cards.
“It is so rare that you would think that it would be more easily uncovered,” Thal said.
The Star Tribune also noted that Omar had, at some point in 2016, provided the names of her siblings:
In 2016, her campaign provided the names of six siblings, but only their first names, citing their need for privacy. Elmi was not among them.
Also in August 2016, Omar released a statement explaining her marital history, detailing the points where she married or separated in religious manners versus legal ones. After a 2008 separation from husband Ahmed Hirsi, she married Ahmed Nur Said Elmi legally. Omar and Elmi separated in 2011 and she reconciled with Elmi. As of 2016, her formal divorce from Elmi was pending.
In the statement [PDF], Omar identifies Ahmed Nur Said Elmi as her former spouse, adding that claims that Ahmed Nur Said Elmi is her brother are “absurd and offensive”:
In 2002, when I was 19 years old, Ahmed Hirsi (whose name before he received citizenship was Ahmed Aden), the father of my children and love of my life, and I, applied for a marriage license, but we never finalized the application and thus were never legally married. In 2008, we decided to end our relationship in our faith tradition after reaching an impasse in our life together.
I entered into a relationship with a British citizen, Ahmed Nur Said Elmi, and married him legally in 2009. Our relationship ended in 2011 and we divorced in our faith tradition. After that, he moved home to England. I have yet to legally divorce Ahmed Nur Said Elmi, but am in the process of doing so. Insinuations that Ahmed Nur Said Elmi is my brother are absurd and offensive.
Since 2011, I am happy to say that I have reconciled with Ahmed Hirsi, we have married in our faith tradition and are raising our family together. Like all families, we have had our ups and downs but we are proud to have come through it together.
Omar has consistently and categorically denied that Elmi is her brother. The Star Tribune investigation from June 2019 quotes the Minnesota congresswoman as explaining that her immigration status is such that claims of that variety can be leveled at her with impunity, and that she is powerless to disprove them:
Omar expressed frustration over the controversy again last October , telling the Star Tribune in an interview that like many refugees without birth certificates, “anybody can accuse me of whatever they want and I don’t have a way to defend myself.”
Later in August 2016, Minnesota news blog AlphaNewsMN.com was contacted by a man with the name Ahmed Elmi who lived in London. Elmi took issue with the extensive use of images of both him and his various social media accounts, and he denied both having married Omar and being Omar’s brother. Elmi stated that all of his siblings at the time lived in the United Kingdom, and that Omar was not among them.
That article included three screenshots of emails from Elmi, in which he said his birthday was in May, not April (as was the case for the Elmi who Omar had married.). Nevertheless, Alpha News titled their article on the topic, “The Brother Ilhan Omar Legally Married Sends Alpha News an Email.”
Elmi explained to the outlet that there “are about as many Ahmed Elmis as there are John Smiths”; Alpha News then responded by saying that they would continue to misidentify Elmi as Ahmed Nur Said Elmi — unless he produced another of the many people bearing the same name:
Alpha News sent a final email to Elmi explaining that we trusted our sources and that unless he can produce documentation of another Ahmed Elmi who attended NDSU we will continue using his picture.
In October 2018, the same outlet published an item titled “New Evidence Supports Claims That Ilhan Omar Married Her Brother.” The content of the post did not match the title:
According to official school records from St. Paul Public Schools obtained by [PJ Media], an “Ahmed N. Elmi” was enrolled as a senior at Arlington Senior High School in St. Paul, Minnesota from September 2002 to June 2003. Ahmed N. Elmi graduated in June 2003 with a diploma.
[PJ Media] reports that the enrollment record lists Ahmed N. Elmi’s date of birth as April 4, 1985–the same date of birth listed on Omar’s marriage documents and divorce proceedings for Ahmed Nur Said Elmi.
“After an extensive background search, I have not been able to find any other person named ‘Ahmed Nur Said Elmi,’ ‘Ahmed N. Elmi,’ or even ‘Ahmed Elmi’ with the birthdate April 4, 1985. The man Ilhan Omar married and the 17- to 18-year-old who attended Arlington Senior High School in St. Paul, MN, in 2002-2003 are one and the same,” [PJ Media] writes.
We were unable to deduce how the existence of school records for an Ahmed Nur Said Elmi in any way substantiated the claim that Rep. Omar once married her brother, nor how it related to Alpha News’ prior claim that the London-based Elmi was the same individual.
On August 22 2016, Omar shared a letter to her office from the office of Minnesota’s Attorney General via Facebook. In the letter, United States Attorney Andrew Luger stated “my office is not investigating, nor have we requested an investigation into Ms. Omar”:
Many of the claims made about Omar’s marriage to Ahmed Nur Said Elmi relied on inference, and perhaps a soupçon of wishful thinking. It is clear that authorities were aware of these claims, and that said authorities did not consider them sufficient to warrant investigation despite the frequency with which they appeared on blogs and on social media.
In October 2018, the Associated Press unsuccessfully attempted to verify that Elmi is Omar’s brother. Once again, Omar noted such efforts were hamstrung by a dearth of records available for her to provide the requested information:
Sorting out these claims is difficult without access to immigration records, birth certificates or other documents that could prove parentage or family lineage.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said records about individuals cannot be released without written permission from that individual. Omar’s campaign has said she and others can’t get birth certificates because the infrastructure in Somalia collapsed during a civil war that displaced over 2 million Somalis.
Omar and her campaign have declined to provide the AP with a list of her siblings, but she has said publicly that she is the youngest of seven children. Elmi’s birthdate on the couple’s marriage certificate would make him three years younger than her.
That same month, Omar provided access to immigration documents during an interview and she expressed frustration about the impossibility of “prov[ing a negative].” The documents listed Omar and six siblings — with Omar listed, just as she had said, as the youngest. Both Elmis identified in other reports are three years younger than she:
“It’s really strange, right, to try to prove a negative,” Omar said in the interview. “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.”
During an interview, Omar showed a reporter cellphone photos of documents from her family’s U.S. entry in 1995 after fleeing Somalia’s civil war. She declined to provide copies of the papers, which included refugee resettlement approval forms and identification cards, but they appeared to list her father, siblings and Omar by order of birth, with Omar as the youngest of seven children. No one named Ahmed Nur Said Elmi, who is three years younger than Omar, could be seen 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.
No credible explanation of an unlisted younger sibling with an immigration record to a different country (the UK, where Elmi has citizenship) was provided by those pushing this theory. While the rumor became immensely popular, no one addressed the fact that a child younger than Omar at the time of the family’s emigration from Somalia in 1995 somehow wound up separated from the family and remained, as a child, in the United Kingdom, reappearing just in time for his sister to marry him.
Another inconsistency on which the entire theory seemed to rest was Omar and Elmi’s purported plot to secure United States residency or citizenship for Elmi — but after their divorce, Elmi returned to the United Kingdom and did not pursue residency or citizenship in the United States.
As of June 2019, partisan blogs still claimed that documents were surfacing supporting the theory that Rep. Ilhan Omar married her brother. But those documents did not in any way support the idea that Elmi and Omar are siblings, they merely reinforced that the two were married — information that Omar herself has provided and never denied. Those blogs argued that “Omar has not provided records or answered detailed questions from any news organization that could clear her of the accusation that she married her alleged brother,” a claim that is demonstrably false.
Another outlet alluded to a “hidden clue” that Elmi was Omar’s brother surfacing in June 2019. That particular clue consists of website source code suggesting that an Ahmed Elmi helped build a website for Omar’s sister. Given that Elmi stated the name “Ahmed Elmi” is “as common as John Smith,” that “hidden” information (which is not exactly “hidden” if it’s up on a website for all to see) again shed no light on the claims Omar married her brother.
All claims that Rep. Omar married her brother Ahmed Elmi traced back to the same single third-hand account originally shared by Power Line Blog in 2016. Omar and a man in the United Kingdom by the name Ahmed Elmi have denied all the claims. Omar has provided access to the limited records she has as a refugee to journalists, efforts on her part that are later dismissed as non-cooperation. No one has ever substantiated the claim, and “new” information repeatedly spread by partisan blogs almost inevitably consists of speculative details such as a name appearing to exist in website code for a URL belonging to her sister.
Multiple aspects of the theory taken examined in part also fail to make sense, such as how a UK citizen (Elmi) purportedly sought US citizenship (which he did not pursue) or the insinuation the family’s youngest member somehow went off on his own to a separate country (England) as a small child. Finally, we were unable to determine the standard of evidence by which proponents of the claim demand Omar disprove it. Omar has categorically denied the claim and provided records to journalists seeking information, and we were not able to identify any specific information she has refused to provide.