On Tuesday night, after a three-year wait in a refugee camp, prolonged by ten days by President Donald Trump’s executive order that temporarily banned entry to the United States to refugees and nationals of seven mostly Islamic countries, three Syrian refugees, Baraa, Abdulmajeed, and their 16-month-old daughter finally arrived in Chicago. Their flight landed on schedule, at 5:50 PM, and they cleared customs just before 7 PM. Baraa’s parents and siblings were waiting for them; the hugging started even before they’d cleared the barrier that blocked the door to customs.
“I am in the place of dreams!” Abdulmajeed said through an Arabic translator after they emerged from customs. “I have hope for my daughter now.”
The family had been scheduled to fly into Chicago on January 27. They’d actually been scheduled to arrive even earlier, in September, with Baraa’s parents and siblings, but the already lengthy vetting process had been held up by a paperwork error. But late in January, they’d left the refugee camp and made their way to Istanbul, where they bought plane tickets with the money they’d earned from selling all their possessions. Baraa’s parents had gone to O’Hare to meet them and didn’t realize anything had gone wrong until their daughter and her family failed to emerge from customs.
A ruling last weekend by federal judge James Robart in Seattle temporarily blocked the travel ban, and airlines were instructed to allow refugees to board, giving priority to those who, like Baraa and Abdulmajeed and their daughter, already had tickets.
Representatives of RefugeeOne, a nonprofit that serves refugees in the Chicago area, and a delegation of women who call themselves the Lincoln Square Moms who were sponsoring the family, were also there to greet them with flowers and signs. The Lincoln Square Moms had arranged an apartment for the family, which they’d stocked with food and basic supplies.
“They’re going to take some time to rest before digging into work and English classes,” said Jim Porter, a spokesman for RefugeeOne. In Syria, Abdulmajeed had been an accountant and Baraa had been studying literature at the university before the civil war intervened.
“Refugees arrive here in Chicago with little more than their clothes in suitcases,” Porter continued. He had obviously been moved by witnessing the reunion. “They’re determined and optimistic and motivated to succeed. They’re self-reliant within six to nine months. That speaks a lot to their work ethic and what they bring to our country.”
A second family of Syrian refugees that had been detained by the ban also arrived in Chicago on Tuesday, but they had requested that their identities not be disclosed for fear of reprisals to their families that remained behind.