Staff Directory 6370441

Maya Rao

Reporter | Race and Immigration
Phone: 612-673-4210

Maya Rao covers race and immigration for the Star Tribune.

Rao wrote for The Press of Atlantic City and The Philadelphia Inquirer before moving to Minnesota in January 2012. She previously covered the federal government for the Star Tribune.
Recent content from Maya Rao
Ronald Perez, an asylum seeker from Venezuela, tried to book a U.S. Customs and Border Protection appointment through the CBP One app but received onl

Customs and Border Protection app for asylum seekers jammed by heavy use

Russian hoping to reach Minnesota has tried to schedule an appointment for nearly two weeks.
Siblings from Eden Prairie, from left, Ali Kambal, 9, Tala Kambal, 7, Yusif Kambal, 4, and Jude Kambal, 16, joined by friend Shahd Hagelsafy, 18, of W

War in Sudan hits hard for immigrants who now live in Minnesota

A group gathered Saturday in Minneapolis, sharing stories of family and loved ones scrambling for safety in Sudan.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison spoke to about 150 members of the Somali community and their supporters as they gathered Tuesday for the firs

Four things Minnesota Somalis want to see from the Legislature this year

Somali community leaders marked first Somali Day at the Minnesota State Capitol on Tuesday
Rob Bergmann, co-founder of Minneapolis-based F3 Gold, in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Minneapolis geologists' plans to explore for gold in Black Hills raising environmental concerns

The company has emphasized it is only exploring for gold and that its proposals do not involve mining. Environmentalists aren't buying it.
Friday prayers drew a crowd to Masjid Omar Islamic Center on Friday in Minneapolis.

Muslims express confidence, concerns in the wake of Minneapolis mosque arsons

Worshipers at both mosques reflected a mix of fear and resolve.
An abandoned U.S. border crossing in Noyes, Minn.

Rescue of migrants shows rise in Minnesota, N.D. border crossings

U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports significant spike this year, compared with two previous years.
Katya and Artem watched two bald eagles chase each other overhead while on an after dinner walk in their Shakopee neighborhood last month.

Antiwar Russians fleeing home finding their way to Minnesota

Many of the asylum seekers from Russia are coming into the United States through Mexico.
Andre Locke, the father of Amir Locke, spoke in February alongside attorney Ben Crump and Karen Wells, Amir’s mother.

Racial justice advocates offer mixed reviews of Minneapolis policing agreement

They were still absorbing the ramifications of the 144-page document and asking: Did it go far enough?
New Ukrainian refugees and new Home Depot employees Semen Romanov, right to left, Nazur Teteruk and Nataliia Dmytrenko, during training at a new Home

Jobs mean community to Ukrainian refugees in Minnesota

A Home Depot warehouse provides a lifeline to Minnesota group who fled war and are now starting work.
American Indian Movement Minnesota director Lisa Bellanger watched as members and supporters honored the AIM Warriors of Wounded Knee of 1973 in Wound

A new generation of Indigenous leaders takes inspiration from those at Wounded Knee

Facing a series of challenges, "the guidance that those Wounded Knee veterans gave to us was to never give up, to always do the right thing and stand up for the people even if it's hard," one said.
After a 7-mile trek, Native Americans merged and met at the Wounded Knee Memorial site South Dakota on Monday. Some walked, some rode horses and some

March marks 50 years since Wounded Knee occupation

Hundreds walked to Wounded Knee from four directions to recall the work of their ancestors who brought attention to treaty violations and demands for Indigenous rights.
Local American Indian Movement directors Lisa Bellanger, left, Jackie Nadeau, right, stand in front of a mural, in Minneapolis on Friday. The mural is

Wounded Knee remembered: 1973 occupation led to resurgence of Native voice

50th anniversary of 71-day standoff to be commemorated at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on Feb. 24-27
A damaged building in Adiyaman, southern Turkey, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023. Thousands who lost their homes in a catastrophic earthquake huddled around ca

Roseville couple's relatives rescued from the rubble of Turkey earthquake

Turkish American Association of Minnesota is holding a fundraiser and collecting donations of goods on Friday in Chanhassen.
Stanislav Diborov, a recent Ukrainian refugee, hugged his housing case manager Hakizimana Emmanuel a hug as thanks for helping his family move into an

Normal refugee channels slowed dramatically, frustrating local immigrants with family in peril

While Ukrainian and Afghan immigrants are expedited in temporary programs, many others around the world wait.
Jagdish and Vaishaliben Patel, with Dharmik, 3, and Vihangi, 11.

Two arrested in India in deaths of family found frozen at Canada border a year ago

The two men are accused of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, attempt at culpable homicide, human trafficking and criminal conspiracy, an Indian official told the Canadian Press.
Keynote speaker Valerie Jarrett, CEO of the Barack Obama Center, addressed those gathered at the 33rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday breakf

On MLK day, Twin Cities speakers urge 'keep moving forward' in justice fight, reparations push

Valerie Jarrett, CEO of the Obama Foundation, gave the keynote address at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Monday morning.
A “George Perry Floyd Square” commemorative street sign was unveiled at 38th and Chicago. FILE PHOTO by Aaron Lavinsky • aaron.lavinsky@startrib

George Floyd family fund accepting grant applications to help businesses

The grants are meant to help restore the struggling 38th and Chicago neighborhood in south Minneapolis.
Vadym Holiuk, shown with his wife, Liubov, and daughters Nastya, Anita and Alisa, was an electrical engineer working on the railroad in Ukraine. When

Highly skilled back home, refugees in Minnesota try to find fulfilling work

Local groups aim to help recent immigrants from Ukraine and Afghanistan find skilled jobs as the state grapples with a worker shortage.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud responded to the welcome from a cheering crowd of hundreds Thursday night at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Somali president draws crowds for Minneapolis speech

Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was expected to address the fight against terrorist group al-Shabaab and a food crisis in Somalia.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud waved at a crowds of hundreds at the Minneapolis Convention Center in 2012. He returns this week for the first

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to visit Minneapolis on Thursday

He is expected to address the fight against terrorist group al-Shabab and a food crisis in Somalia.
The U’s Native American Promise Tuition Program has disappointed some who expected it to be available to more Native students.

Only 18 freshmen benefit in first year of U's Native American Promise Tuition Program

Some tribal leaders say the program is a promising first step, but they hope it will eventually include far more Native students.
Aswar Rahman welcomed Viktoriia Bolotina with daughter Polina, 5, and older daughter Elizabeth Surzhko to the U.S. earlier this month.

Helped by others decades ago, Minnesotan now rescues Ukrainian refugees

Aswar Rahman, 28, started a nonprofit to bring Ukrainian refugees to the state and connect them with locals who sponsor them.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger announced the fraud case charges in September.

After fighting federal charges, man faces FBI allegations he took $5.9 million in meal fraud case

Haji Salad spent four years in jail on discredited FBI sex trafficking charges before he was federally indicted again this year in a massive meal fraud case.
Political advertisements, such as this billboard at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis, have shown up in higher-crime neighborhoods — but not necess

Mpls. areas hit by crime want say with candidates, not slogans

Some leaders in the areas hit hardest by violence say they wish candidates would spend more time engaging them and residents instead of using public safety as a flashpoint in campaign ads.
Ukrainian refugee Natalia Kuchma waves goodbye to her 5-year-old daughter Solomiia at the Lake Harriet Community School’s Lower Campus in Minneapoli

Ukrainian mom keeps daughter safe in Minneapolis as husband fights Russians at home

Nataliia Kuchma, a doctor in her home country, landed in Minnesota with just two suitcases for her and her 5-year-old girl.
Denisse Carreon (center), a sophomore human services major, walked through campus with fellow classmates Joselin Gonzales Mejia (left) and Jasmin Gray

In Morris, regent's comments on diversity at the University of Minnesota sting students, faculty

MORRIS, Minn. – The students came to Room 5 of the humanities building Thursday to discuss literature in their senior seminar. But first, they reflected…
Don Samuels, the former Minneapolis city councilman who ran a strong campaign against Rep. Ilhan Omar in the Democratic primary, says he will continue

'You don't really win': Don Samuels reflects on suing Minneapolis for more police

With the lawsuit finished, Samuels vowed to continue speaking on public safety.
Roman Khan is grateful that his children Yusuf, 5, Hamza, 10 months, and Mina, 6, get to grow up in St. Paul Park, not under Taliban rule.

One Minnesota interpreter's tumultuous year: Facing a tsunami of need after Afghan evacuation

Roman Khan settled in Minnesota years ago after serving the U.S. military as an interpreter. Now he helps evacuees start over here, while trying to get his family out of Afghanistan.
A man carries salvageable belongings from his flood-hit home in Shikarpur district of Sindh province, of Pakistan, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022.

Efforts underway in Minnesota to raise money to help Pakistani flood victims

Local organizers are encouraging donations to Helping Hand for Relief and Development, Islamic Relief USA and the Pakistan-based Edhi Foundation.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient Roberto Martinez, left, celebrated in front of the Supreme Court after the Supreme Court rejec

Still awaiting citizenship, Minnesota's frustrated 'Dreamers' push forward

Ten years after the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program began, residents are mentally exhausted by uncertainty.
Will Wallace demonstrates how he talks to people who are in need (Darnell Rice of the Confess Project was playing the client) during a Confess Project

Minnesota barbers, hairstylists get training to support clients' mental health needs

The Confess Project held a training session on Monday in Minneapolis, in hopes of expanding outreach to the Black community.
Hawo Ahmed, right, with her mother Isha Ahmed. Hawo Ahmed died not long after charges were dropped and she was released from jail. “Having a child

Charges dropped, lives ruined, but St. Paul officer still on force

False sex trafficking charges ravaged the lives of two dozen people. But the St. Paul officer they sued for violating their constitutional rights is still on the force. An officer's participation in a federal task force has "become blanket immunity for anything they do," said the attorney of one.
Cedric Alexander, seen at a July 7 news conference, is close to being confirmed as the first community safety commissioner of Minneapolis.

Nominee's past may be template for how he handles public safety job

The Minneapolis City Council could vote as soon as Aug. 4 on the nomination of Cedric Alexander as city's community safety commissioner.
People rallied Saturday outside the apartment where Andrew ‘Tekle’ Sundberg was killed.

At march for man fatally shot by Mpls. police, emotions run over

Resident of neighboring apartment says she, children were put in danger by actions of Andrew Tekle Sundberg, who police later fatally shot.
Winona LaDuke (Ojibwe), left, Judith LeBlanc (Caddo Nation of Oklahoma), center, and Madonna Thunder Hawk (Oohenumpa Band of the Cheyenne River Sioux

Young people called to action at national Native youth conference

More than 1,600 attended the event in Minneapolis.
Faduma Omar, 4, looks up at the Jumbotron as her father Shueib Hassan from Eagan watches over her.

Super Eid celebration draws a crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium

Forty-five thousand fill the stadium to celebrate the Muslim holiday.
A memorial at the parking ramp where Winston Smith was shot and killed in summer 2021.

Passenger's lawsuit against officers dismissed in Winston Smith shooting death

The dismissal highlights the challenges of winning cases against members of joint local-federal task forces.
An Instagram video post on Feb. 5, 2021 shows Winston Smith speaking about the stress of his court case and the dark thoughts it inspired. (Screenshot

Winston Smith, outraged at police killings of Black men, saw his own death coming

The budding comedian was outraged by the deaths of Black men at the hands of police. He wondered out loud if he would someday shoot it out rather than surrender.
A new “George Perry Floyd Square” sign was unveiled in front of hundreds of community members Wednesday in Minneapolis.

Two years later: 'I'm going to still be out here to honor George'

George Floyd's brother and his aunt came to the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue on Wednesday night, exactly two years after his killing, and quietly made official the name the intersection has carried almost ever since.
Federal prosecutors have charged Abdiaziz Farah, one of the targets of an FBI investigation alleging the misspending of millions of dollars in federal

Second man in meal fraud probe charged for alleged false statement on passport application

Federal prosecutors have charged Abdiaziz Farah, one of the targets of an FBI investigation alleging the misspending of millions of dollars in federal meal funds,…
K.G. Wilson spoke Wednesday about his granddaughter Aniya Allen during a gathering on the one-year anniversary of her unsolved shooting death at 36th

'We can get some justice': Vows to find killer of 6-year-old Aniya Allen one year later

The loss of Aniya last May shocked Minneapolis – the last in a trio of shootings of children by stray gunfire over several weeks.
Georgia Fort

Georgia Fort expands independent newsroom to change Minnesota's racial narrative

The veteran broadcast journalist also eyes mentorships and a possible pipeline for journalists of color early in their careers.
Blan Tadasa, 34, of Minneapolis filed a complaint after police searched his home without a warrant in November. His case led to no disciplinary action

Black citizens recount fear, distrust as complaints against Mpls. police go nowhere

Few cases filed with Office of Police Conduct Review lead to discipline.
In communities of color, scathing MPD report is not a surprise

In communities of color, scathing MPD report is not a surprise

Finally, some say, there is recognition of what they have recognized for decades.
Sara spends a few moments in her room after she and her family broke fast on the second day of Ramadan at her home in Golden Valley on Monday, April 4

The Taliban stole her dream of an education. In Minnesota, she's getting it back

Her birthday wish this year in America was the same as last year in Afghanistan: to finish school and go to college.
David B. Donnell Jr.

Minnesota man pleads guilty to killing Red Lake tribal officer

Red Lake officer Ryan Bialke was shot and killed in the line of duty last summer.
Border agent David Marcus looked for footprints in March near where two people and their trafficker were found. 

Dead family at northern border shows Border Patrol's tall task

Illegal immigration is a constant issue in the United States, focused on the southern border. In the north, far fewer agents patrol a vast and often treacherous landscape.
Real estate agent Tom Amberg, who owns property in downtown Willmar, searched for information when informed by a Star Tribune reporter that his buildi

Meals program in Willmar offers a window into investigation

The owner of a local restaurant contradicts FBI allegations and says disadvantaged families were served by the thousands.
Realtor Tom Amberg, who owns Building 330, searched for information when told his address was used by a subcontractor of Feeding Our Future claiming t

Meal distributors in probe have history of legal troubles

Three prime contractors are at the heart of criminal conspiracy, according to the FBI.
Douglas Ewart, a member of the Brass Solidarity Band, played a homemade instrument that he called the “George Floyd Bundt staff” outside the Powde

Twin Cities speakers honor MLK's legacy with call to action

As people across the Minnesota honored King's legacy Monday, local leaders encouraged citizens to continue his push for civil rights nearly 54 years after he was assassinated in Memphis.
Clyde Bellecourt, a co-founder of the American Indian Movement, died Tuesday at his home in Minneapolis. He was 85.

Hundreds gather to honor American Indian leader Clyde Bellecourt

As American Indian leader Clyde Bellecourt was dying, Lydia Caros sent him a card expressing how lucky he was to look back on a life…
Khyber Sakhi takes his son Essa, 15, home after he missed the school bus in Richfield, on Dec. 7, 2021.

Afghan interpreter questions cost of war as he works at MOA

Grateful to be in the U.S., Khyber Sakhi is still angered at the Americans' exit from Afghanistan and saddened by the fate of his country.
Khyber Sakhi helped Cyndel Bast and her mother Joyce Scott of Sumner, Iowa, with a cellphone accessory at the Mall of America. His daughter Fathima, 3

Afghan interpreter's journey to state: 'I had no other options'

Khyber Sakhi is among nearly 21,000 Afghans whose support for the U.S. mission allowed them to come here on a Special Immigrant Visa, often sharing the trauma of returning veterans but lacking the same support.
Khyber Malikzai, left, his newly immigrated brother Fahim, Sher Mulakhail and his newly arrived close friend Mirwais Momand talked over tea in Bloomin

Bloomington immigrant family welcomes friends who fled Afghanistan

The Mulakhails, who have lived in the U.S. for three years, host their friends in their small apartment until the new arrivals get on their feet.
Molly Hauver plays on a tire swing with Nilofar Mulakhail’s (not pictured) daughter Maryam, 5, at a park in Bloomington, Minn., Friday, Nov. 5, 2021

For Afghan immigrant in Minnesota, friendship forms with English tutor

Afghan family, volunteer tutor forge friendship through English lessons.
Darlene Bertke looked over her ballot while voting Tuesday at Franklin Middle School in north Minneapolis.

At George Floyd Square, hopes for major change in Minneapolis policing fade with the darkness

Polling numbers heading into Election Day showed a city divided about the future of public safety.
The BCA released a voluminous number of photos as part of its investigation into the killing of Winston Smith. Many of them showed his vehicle after o

Passenger recounts chaos before Winston Smith was fatally shot

The woman who was with Winston Smith Jr. on the day he was shot and killed by members of a federal law enforcement task force detailed his final chaotic moments in the front seat of a vehicle, according to an interview she gave to investigators.
Winston Smith’s brother, Kidale Smith, became emotional at a news conference in Minneapolis on Friday. He was comforted by Toshira Garraway Allen of

Winston Smith's family calls for independent investigation

Family members of the man killed by a U.S. Marshals Service task force atop an Uptown Minneapolis parking ramp said the state's investigation was flawed.
Asylum-seeking immigrants line up at a border fence in Tijuana, Mexico on June 20, 2018. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times/TNS)  IPTC information:

Honduran sisters in Rochester allege mistreatment at southern border

Now in Minnesota with mom, they detail being held in cage and kicked.
Christine Diindiisi McCleave wafted cedar smoke Friday at Cedar Field Park in Minneapolis.

Mpls. coalition aims to advance healing for Native families with ties to U.S. boarding schools

Recent findings of hundreds of unmarked graves near Canadian boarding schools for Natives has spurred hope of a similar reckoning in the U.S.
Taliban fighters at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 3, 2021, following the withdrawal of U.S. forces after nearly 20 years of military inv

Poll: Many Minnesotans approve of Afghan pullout, not Biden job

Nearly half of voters polled said U.S. military invasion wasn't worth it.
Sher Mohammad Mulakhail, seen with his daughters, including Maryam, 5, says the family has adjusted after moving to a two-bedroom apartment in Bloomin

Bloomington family helps newer Afghan arrivals as they build life in U.S.

The Mulakhails believe it's their duty to help those now fleeing the Taliban.
Amina Baha, left, and Nasreen Sajady embraced during a vigil Saturday at Loring Park.

In Minnesota, Afghan woman struggles to help stranded relatives

From Blaine, she imagined how hard it would be for them to start over, having been upper class in Kabul.
Tyrice Cagle, a community intervention worker, was greeted by officer Abel Estopin before a movie night at a Los Angeles park.

L.A., Atlanta wrestle with calls for permanent police reform

More than a year after George Floyd's killing, Los Angeles' commitment to lasting change is being tested.
Winston Boogie Smith was fatally shot June 3.

Winston Smith raised phone, not gun, says woman in car with him

Their claim contradicts that of authorities, who say he was shot after showing a weapon.
Attorney Jeff Storms spoke to the media with Kidale Smith, brother of Winston Smith, by his side, on June 10 in Minneapolis.

Death of Winston Smith puts spotlight on low-profile agency

Amid a national push for police accountability, critics now are questioning the often-secret actions of the U.S. Marshals Service, including why and how it oversaw the operation that resulted in Smith's death in Minneapolis.
The scene Tuesday near W. Lake Street and S. Fremont Avenue, near where Deona Knajdek and Winston Smith were killed.

'It could have been me,' witnesses to Sunday crash at protest site say

Sunday's episode shocked protesters and gave them a renewed determination to keep pressing for racial justice in policing.
LaTonya Floyd collected herself during a George Floyd Memorial Garden Dedication in the Third Ward of Houston on May 23, 2021. The garden in located a

George Floyd's friends seek to build a living legacy in his hometown

In Houston's Third Ward, his presence is everywhere.
Attorney Jeff Storms spoke to the media Thursday with Kidale Smith, brother of Winston Smith, by his side.

Attorneys for woman in Winston Smith's car: She didn't see a gun

Activists demanded that law enforcement be more transparent and be held to account. The BCA reiterated its claim that Smith fired a gun before being killed.
Protesters against police killings observed a moment of silence Saturday to recognize victims of community gun violence, including the three children

Protesters take fight for police accountability to Uptown

Scrutiny over Winston Smith's killing comes as Uptown reels from a rash of business closures, lootings and crime — and the scars of a mass shooting last summer that killed one and injured 11.
Protesters took part in the Assata Shakur chant during Saturday night’s protest near the site of where Winston Smith was fatally shot by law enforce

Protesters gather for third night at site of Uptown police shooting

On Saturday night, a crowd converged on W. Lake Street outside the parking garage where Winston Smith was killed and blocked off the street.
Three people were fatally shot Saturday night in different parts of Minneapolis, two of them struck by stray bullets while watching illegal street rac

3 fatally shot overnight in Mpls.; officer wounds suspect

The deaths of a man and a woman in separate incidents brought the number of homicides in the city to 37 for the year.
Protesters were arrested early Saturday after a vigil for Winston Boogie Smith Jr. on Friday night in the Uptown area of Minneapolis.

BCA: Man shot, killed by police had fired from inside vehicle

Authorities said there is no video of the shooting of the man identified as Winston Boogie Smith, 32, in the Uptown area of Minneapolis. Grief mixed with anger for his family.
Kimberly Hewitt worked at the Brunch Box in the Third Ward of Houston. Hewitt lost her son to gun violence in 2020.

Death is painfully familiar in Floyd's old neighborhood

The epidemic of deaths in Houston's Third Ward is even more painful after the killing of George Floyd, who was a mentor and friend to many.
Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and George Floyd’s sisters LaTonya Floyd and Zsa Zsa Floyd led a balloon release as a tribute to George Floyd

In George Floyd's hometown, anniversary marked with prayers and resolve

The Houston neighborhood where Floyd spent much of his life marked the day with a deeply personal sense of hope and loss.