‘I am lucky’: Refugee fam­ily celebrates ar­rival to US

Imperial Valley Press - - FRONT PAGE -

SAN DIEGO (AP) — In­side a small apart­ment in a San Diego sub­urb, Na­dia Hanan Madalo sat be­fore tins of ke­bab, roasted chicken, and tomato and cu­cum­ber salad. Her refugee flight cre­den­tial still hung around her neck, as her chil­dren played with cousins they had only seen on In­ter­net phone chats be­fore this night.

The mid­night feast marked the end of the refugee fam­ily’s long jour­ney to leave war-torn Iraq and be re­united with Madalo’s 21-year-old son, her mother and si­b­lings in the United States.

Madalo, her hus­band and four other chil­dren be­lieved when they boarded their plane Wed­nes­day morn­ing in north­ern Iraq that they would be among the last refugees al­lowed in be­fore the lat­est Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion travel ban was to take ef­fect.

By the time they landed, a fed­eral judge in Hawaii put a hold on Pres­i­dent Trump’s new­est ban — the lat­est de­vel­op­ment in a fight be­tween the ad­min­is­tra­tion and the courts that has in­jected more un­cer­tainty into the lives of refugees.

For Madalo, it all seemed sur­real. She smiled. Tears streamed down her face as she gave long em­braces to each mem­ber of her large extended fam­ily amid flow­ers and “wel­come home” bal­loons.

“I am lucky. I am lucky,” she said as she sat squashed on a couch with her large extended fam­ily at her brother’s apart­ment in El Ca­jon. They held the feast for the mo­men­tous re­union as qui­etly as pos­si­ble. They didn’t want to bother their neigh­bors.

Madalo was look­ing for­ward to see­ing the ocean for the first time. But other than that, she could not think yet of what her new life would hold for her. But she was sure it would be good.

“The first thing is be­ing safe,” she told her brother who trans­lated her words in her na­tive Chaldean lan­guage to English.

The Madalo fam­ily waited for four years to get into the United States. Her sis­ter in Le­banon is among those still wait­ing for fi­nal ap­proval. The fam­ily fled their Chris­tian vil­lage be­fore Is­lamic State fight­ers in­vaded sev­eral years ago.

Madalo and her hus­band re­turned to see the town one last time be­fore leav­ing Iraq. Only dev­as­ta­tion re­mains. Roads are filled with land mines. The town has been de­stroyed. And their fam­ily home was burned to the ground.

“Thank God we ran from there and come here,” she said at the San Diego air­port.

Re­set­tle­ment agen­cies say more than 67,000 refugees were in the stages of be­ing ap­proved and al­lowed into the U.S when Trump’s Jan­uary or­der halted travel for 90 days from seven ma­jor­ity-Mus­lim coun­tries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, So­ma­lia, Su­dan, Syria and Ye­men. The or­der also sus­pended the refugee pro­gram for 120 days.

Af­ter a fed­eral court in Cal­i­for­nia blocked the or­der in Fe­bru­ary thou­sands rushed to get in be­fore the an­tic­i­pated new or­der was is­sued.

U.S. Dis­trict Judge Der­rick Wat­son blocked that or­der Wed­nes­day, cit­ing “ques­tion­able ev­i­dence sup­port­ing the gov­ern­ment’s na­tional se­cu­rity mo­ti­va­tion.” Trump, who has said the or­der is nec­es­sary to pre­vent ter­ror­ists from en­ter­ing the U.S., crit­i­cized the rul­ing, say­ing: “The dan­ger is clear. The law is clear.”

The 16-page ex­ec­u­tive or­der calls for a 55 per­cent reduction in refugee visas over­all. In­stead of the planned 110,000 slated for this year, there would be just 50,000. By this week, nearly 38,000 will have already been ad­mit­ted.

Madalo is just happy her fam­ily could stop flee­ing. Their chil­dren had been strug­gling since they had left their vil­lage in 2014 and fled to Iraq’s semi-au­ton­o­mous north­ern Kur­dish re­gion where they at­tended an over­crowded school for the dis­placed.

Her brother ex­pected the fam­ily to ad­just quickly to El Ca­jon, home to the na­tion’s sec­ond largest pop­u­la­tion of Chaldeans.

But for ev­ery fam­ily cel­e­brat­ing a joy­ous re­union, thou­sands of other peo­ple re­main in limbo.

Madalo and her si­b­lings un­der­stand the pain of wait­ing.

Their par­ents spent three years go­ing through the vet­ting process be­fore they got ap­proved for a flight. Then it was can­celled. There were more de­lays as her father’s health wors­ened. In 2015, as her par­ents trav­eled to the U.S., her father died. He was buried in San Diego.

His photo is dis­played high on the wall in the liv­ing room where they feasted at the apart­ment, as if he was watch­ing over them. Below it, the fam­ily teth­ered the bun­dle of “Wel­come Home” bal­loons.

AP PHOTO

Na­dia Hanan Madalo (cen­ter right) hugs her mother, Alyshooa Kan­nah (left) at the air­port af­ter ar­riv­ing from Iraq on Wed­nes­day in San Diego.

AP PHOTO

Na­dia Hanan Madalo (cen­ter) talks with her mother, Alyshooa Kan­nah (sec­ond from right) and other fam­ily mem­bers as she sits down for a meal in her brother’s apart­ment Thurs­day in El Ca­jon af­ter ar­riv­ing to the United States.

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