On Sunday night, an Iraqi family of five landed at the Portland International Airport. According to the ACLU, they’re the first refugees to arrive in Oregon since Jan. 27, when President Trump issued his controversial travel ban.
A crowd of people toting signs, stuffed animals and balloons were there to welcome the family to the Rose City.
“It’s a very exciting time for Oregonians,” Mat dos Santos, the legal director of the ACLU in Oregon told reporters. “We think that this gathering of folks here today is really reflective of beautiful Oregon values — of just welcoming everyone. Including refugees.”
The family’s journey has been a long one. Mustafa, Fatimah, and their three daughters began the process of applying for a refugee visa to come to the United States about four years ago. That’s according to Mustafa’s cousin, Fadhaa. She lives in Portland with a number of other family members. And she asked that the family’s last name not be used out of concern for their safety.
Fadhaa’s actually a refugee herself. She came to the United States in 1993, fleeing the Gulf War.
“We stayed in the refugee camp for two and a half years in Saudi Arabia,” Fadhaa told OPB, “In the desert. In a tent. For two and a half years until we finally came here.”
Fadhaa said her cousin Mustafa first applied for his refugee visa through the International Organization for Migration — that’s a refugee relocation program. When the organization found out that Mustafa was a bodyguard for American soldiers, though, they referred him to a Special Immigrant Visa program instead.
That introduced a whole new course of bureaucratic hurdles. Fadhaa says her cousin had to wait an entire year for approval from an American supervisor who could confirm that he was not a threat.
“So it took all these years,” Fadhaa said, “and we finally got his visa on Jan. 4 when Obama was the president. We were thinking it would be fine. We got the visa — he can come anytime.”
But then, on Jan. 27, the day Mustafa and his family were supposed to leave Iraq, President Trump issued an executive order banning refugees from entering the country.
Mustafa had just quit his job, sold his car and taken his kids out of school with the expectation that they’d all be leaving the country. Instead, he was stuck in Baghdad — his airline tickets suddenly canceled.
Fadhaa’s high-school aged daughter, Muna, said it was a tense moment.
“My mom went through a tough time,” she said. “She had trouble getting it in her system that like, ‘oh — he’s not going to come today.’”
When a federal judge stayed the President’s immigration ban on Friday, Feb. 3, the family didn’t hesitate. They bought tickets as quickly as they could.
“I had to pay with my credit card for their flights because we did not want to wait for the [International Organization for Migration] to arrange the airlines,” Fadhaa said.
Mustafa, Fatimah, and their girls will be staying with Fadhaa’s family while they get on their feet. Muna said she’s excited about it. She looks forward to taking them to the Oregon coast. And to making them feel at home in their new country.
“I said, like, you know — there’s a lot of people out here to support you. And there’s a lot of Muslims. And you’re not the only ones.”
“We’re your family,” Muna added, “and we’re here to help you.”