WASHINGTON – Before President Obama left Thursday for his visits to Kenya and Ethiopia Minnesota lawmakers urged him in a letter to prioritize human rights on the trip.

“Minnesota is home to a large Ethiopian and Somali diaspora that adds rich cultural diversity to our state,” the letter states. “We are proud to represent them and ask that when you visit Africa you address issues of concern for our Ethiopian and Somali communities.”

The letter is signed by Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, Democratic Reps. Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum and Tim Walz and Republican Rep. Tom Emmer.

Minnesota is home to more than 30,000 Somalis and about 14,000 Ethiopians, according to census data. This is Obama’s first trip to Kenya, his father’s homeland, since becoming president and he will be the first ever U.S. president to visit Ethiopia.

The letter asks Obama to address the Kenyan government’s discrimination of the more than 350,000 Somali refugees, noting Somalis in Kenya are frequently detained or deported and Somali neighborhoods are often raided by Kenyan forces.

The letter encourages the president to use his time in Ethiopia to urge Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to stop restricting freedom of the press, politically-motivated prosecutions and excessive force by law enforcement.

“We urge you to use your time in Kenya and Ethiopia to persuade policy makers to prevent discrimination and prioritize human rights,” the lawmakers wrote. “Thank you for your commitment to improving economic growth and security in Africa.”

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