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A Portland Refugee Worries: Will Her Parents Make It Home?


Iraqi refugee Noor Hilmi holds a picture of her parents, who are visiting Dubai. She’s been worried they won’t be let back in for 90 days.

Iraqi refugee Noor Hilmi holds a picture of her parents, who are visiting Dubai. She’s been worried they won’t be let back in for 90 days.

Kate Davidson/OPB

Noor Hilmi and her parents are Iraqi refugees who live in the Portland area. They fled Baghdad after Noor’s little brother was kidnapped. He was nine at the time. 

Now they have green cards and are on the path to citizenship.

On Friday, these permanent residents were thrust into turmoil by President Trump’s executive order barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iraq, from entering the United States for at least 90 days.

Hilmi’s parents are now in Dubai, where they traveled for the birth of their twin grandbabies. OPB All Things Considered host Kate Davidson spoke with Hilmi on Sunday, when conflicting reports circulated about whether Trump’s ban would continue to apply to people with green cards.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length. Click on the audio player above to hear the conversation.


Q&A with Noor Hilmi

Kate Davidson: So on Friday, President Trump barred citizens from seven mostly Muslim countries, including Iraq, from entering the U.S. for at least 90 days. What did you think when you heard that news?

Noor Hilmi: I was shocked. My mom and my dad, they are in Dubai. I don’t know when or how they are gonna get back here. It’s like a shock for me. I couldn’t believe that.

Davidson: Because they have green cards…

Hilmi: They have green cards, and they travel with their confidence that they will be able to return to the United States.

Davidson: We’re speaking on Sunday, and all weekend there has been this incredible confusion about who the ban actually applies to — whether it’s people like your parents who have green cards and already live here. Some people have been detained at airports. Judges are weighing in across the country. What is the effect of that confusion on your parents and your family?

Hilmi: I called my mom, and she was almost crying. She was like, “What shall we do?” They can’t stay in Dubai because when you go there, you have a residency only for one month. And then you need to go outside the country and then come back with another visa. So my mom’s visa will end on February 12.

Davidson: She has a deadline.

Hilmi: Yeah. She was planning to stay there for one month to help my sister get ready for her birth and everything. And then she was planning to come back. With this situation, she doesn’t know what to do. She can’t go back to Iraq because it’s really dangerous there. 

Davidson: Well, let’s talk about that. Your family fled Iraq in 2006. What happened to lead to that moment? You were living in Baghdad…

Hilmi: So after the war in 2003, they kidnapped my little brother. He was 9 years old. He stayed kidnapped for 20 days. After that we paid a certain amount of money. I don’t really remember (how much), I was 12.

Davidson: After your little brother was kidnapped, you went to the United Arab Emirates. You were there for years before you applied for refugee status. You were vetted, you were ultimately granted asylum by the United States, and you came here. I think some people will ask, “Is it so bad if people from these seven countries have to wait 90 days.” Why does it matter?

Hilmi: For example, in my case, it really matters. My mom, she can’t stay 90 days in the United Arab Emirates. And the other thing — she has her job here, she works here. My brother lives alone now. He’s only 20. It’s really hard to just pause your life in one country and then just go live your other life in the other country, which already doesn’t accept you. It will be like the only thing she can do is go to the mother country, which is Iraq. Which is really against the rules. When we came as a refugee, they told us, “When you get your green card, you can go to any other country, but not your mother country.”

Davidson: Not Iraq.

Hilmi: Not Iraq.


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