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NYC Mayor Bloomberg appoints US Palestinian to head immigration office

Aug. 14, 2009 5:23 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 17, 2009 7:26 A.M.)
Bethlehem – Ma'an – New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has appointed a Palestinian-American to head his immigrants affairs office, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.

Fatima Shama was previously the mayor's senior education policy advisor, the paper said.

"Fatima was at the forefront of our efforts... to raise standards in the classroom, and to increase parental engagement, especially among immigrant parents," Bloomberg said in a statement.

Shama is fluent in Arabic, Portuguese, English, French, and Spanish, and speaks some Italian.

"For generations immigrants have come in search of a better life. Looking for work. Successfully integrating into our society. And making this city and country that much better," Shama told Channel One (NY1).

"The mayor has been a champion for immigrant voices that built this city, and I look forward to ensuring that every immigrant feels at home in our city," she added.

The appointment of Shama, who originally joined Bloomberg's administration in 2006, was thought to mark the first time an Arab Muslim had held the post.

The city's Muslim community applauded the mayor's decision. Linda Sarsour of the Arab American Association of New York told WNYC Radio she expected Shama to push for Muslim holidays in public schools, a proposal Bloomberg has opposed.

Shama replaces Guillermo Linares, who stepped down in July for a top spot on Bloomberg's reelection campaign. Linares was also expected to run for a City Council position representing northern Manhattan.

Shama was born in the city's Bronx borough to a Brazilian mother and Palestinian father. Her father's side of the family is from the Ramallah-area village of Deir Dibwan, which she visited for the first time 14 years ago.

Although she has spent some time on holiday in her banker husband's native Syria, Shama told Al-Arabiyya that her home is in New York City, where she lives with her two sons.
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