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White House refugee ban

Meet some of the families separated by Trump's refugee ban

Refugees are people whose lives you would recognize. They're mothers, fathers, daughters and sons who have escaped violence and persecution.  They're the most vulnerable people in the world. Full stop. 

Slamming the door puts innocent lives at risk and does nothing to make us safer. Meet some of the families separated by an unjust Trump Administration order that bans Syrian refugees indefinitely and halts the arrival of all other refugees for 120 days because of unfounded security concerns.

We just want to live in one place together. All we want is to live in peace.

Just outside Seattle, the Al Halabi family from Syria was awaiting a joyful reunion with a grown son and daughter who were set to arrive from Turkey on January 30. The daughter is expecting a baby in April — the family's first grandchild. Now they have no idea when they'll see her again.

Refugees already go through an intense security screening process, led by federal authorities, that can take up to 36 months. Syrian refugees like the Al Halabis must go through even more extreme vetting.   

It feels like the American dream was in their grasp and they've had it taken away from them.

Nicky Smith, who directs the International Rescue Committee's refugee resettlement programs in Seattle, is working with another local family, Iraqi Kurds, who had to flee their country as a persecuted minority. They don't know when they will be able to welcome their mother and father and other relatives still in Iraq who had already been vetted and were set to travel.

She said of these now-stranded Iraqis, "It feels like the American dream was in their grasp and they've had it taken away from them."

We realized we were no longer welcome, neither from the Iraqis because we worked with the Americans, nor from the Americans because we were Iraqi.

Maha al-Obaidi's family survived the war in Iraq, but had to flee to Jordan because they supported U.S. forces. Several family members were kidnapped—it wasn't safe to stay.

Maha immigrated to New York City in 2014, reuniting with her three sons who had arrived earlier. Her husband and two other sons remain in Jordan. They were due to arrive in the U.S. soon, but then the refugee executive order put their plans on indefinite hold. 


The  order also blocked the arrival of other citizens from Iraq and six other Muslim-majority countries that have been linked to concerns about terrorism.

“America has abandoned its responsibility to protect those who protected and cooperated with the Americans,” said Maha's son Thabit, in Amman, Jordan. “It’s a decision solely based on my religious faith. It’s discrimination solely on religious grounds.”

Choosing to slam America’s door on refugees is a betrayal of who we are as a nation.

Resettled refugees are the lucky few—less than one percent of refugees are ever invited to start new lives in the U.S. or any other country. Unable to return home, and without a future in the countries where they sought safety, they have no other option.


Among the refugees stranded by the Trump Administration ban are a 57-year-old widow and her 31-year-old niece, who uses a wheelchair. They were due to arrive from Somalia.

“These two women could not possibly be considered a security threat to America,” said J.D. McCrary, executive director of the IRC in Atlanta, which has been preparing to resettle the women. “Choosing to slam America’s door on refugees is a betrayal of who we are as a nation and is deeply disturbing.”


All of these families that are waiting may have to start the process all over again.

Natalie El-Deiry, interim executive director of the IRC in Salt Lake City, says some vetted refugees were already preparing to board flights to the U.S. when they were stopped.

She explains that Trump's suspension of the refugee resettlement program is not just a hold. "It disrupts the whole process — a process that's been in place for decades," she said. "All of these families that are waiting may have to start the process all over again."


Many refugee families were left at a loss when their imminent departures for the U.S. were cancelled.

“They got all the papers, their passports and they sold their house," said Fires Elbura of his Syrian family members who were due to arrive in Salt Lake City on Jan. 29. 

"They sold everything, and when they went to the airport they told them 'no, you’re out.'”

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