JUST a week ago, Nadia Hanan Madalo and her family had received news that refugees like them have been waiting to hear: They had seats on a flight bound for the US from Iraq, with an arrival just before the latest Trump administration travel ban was to take effect.
But until they set foot on US soil, they weren’t sure.
All Madalo’s family knew was that they couldn’t go back to their Christian village. Daesh (the so-called IS) fighters had invaded several years ago, and 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 told her brother in Arabic, who translated her words to English after Madalo, her husband and four children arrived to the San Diego airport Wednesday.
Tears streamed down her face as she gave him, her other siblings and mother long embraces.
As Madalo and her family flew to the US on Wednesday, 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.
Resettlement agencies say more than 67,000 refugees were in the stages of being approved and allowed into the US 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, declaring it unconstitutional, thousands rushed to get in before the anticipated new order was issued. The Trump administration said the revised ban addresses the legal problems of the last one, and dropped Iraq from the list of countries.
US District Judge Derrick Watson blocked the order, citing “questionable evidence supporting the government’s national security motivation.” Trump, who has said the order is necessary to prevent terrorists from entering the US, criticized the ruling, saying: “The danger is clear. The law is clear.”
Before leaving for the US, Madalo and her husband returned one last time to their village. The family had not been back in three years since Daesh fighters moved in. Government forces have since pushed the fighters out, but their home was in ruins — grim confirmation that they needed to leave.
Still, it was a difficult moment. Madalo’s husband, Salim Tobiya Kato, cried for hours as he said goodbye to his siblings, not knowing when he would see them again.
“It’s hard to leave my birthplace, where all my memories are, and where my parents are buried,” he said.
At the same time, he looked forward to reuniting with his 21-year-old son who got into the US a year earlier. Madalo was 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.
Their final destination was the San Diego suburb of El Cajon, home to the nation’s second largest population of Chaldeans, where her brother hosted a celebration with their mother, siblings and cousins. — AP