Idaho Refugees With Family Overseas Are Still Waiting to See Family Again
Trump-era immigration policies mean many refugee families have been waiting for years to reunite with loved ones in the States. As the Biden administration signals to overturn some of those policies, refugees and supporting organizations are taking stock.
Graduations, births, new careers — all milestones Fowzia and her family have celebrated in the eight years since resettling in the U.S. from Somalia. Milestones her father has missed.
“It's been so long” she said. “I just remember sitting down with him, right? And sitting on his lap as a little kid. And after that, it was just us just trying to survive.”
Fowzia, her mother and four siblings were separated from their father during the Somali civil war in 2006. After a long vetting process they became part of the 58,238 refugees admitted to the states in 2012.
Near the end of 2012, six years after the war’s outset, they found their father in a camp in Uganda. He started the long resettlement process nine years ago. For the family, there was hope.
But Donald Trump’s White House bid started to cast a long shadow. In a press conference in the run-up to the 2016 election he said, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."
That same year, Fowzia’s father was set to come to the U.S.
“He was scheduled for an interview and then it was canceled,” Fowzia said, “for obvious reasons because he was Somailan nationality. Somalia was one of the countries that was on the travel ban.”
The ban was contested in its first iteration, during the early Trump Presidency. After a few tries the Trump White House finally found something that would stick though.
That policy had a chilling effect on refugee resettlement across the country.
Georgette Sisqueros is the Community Engagement Coordinator at the International Rescue Committee in Boise. She said since 2016 they’ve had 85 family reunification applications filed, and only three have made it here to the States.
The Idaho Office for Refugees reports in the last four years the state saw an 82% drop in refugees arriving. In 2016 1,042 refugees arrived the year Obama left office, that number dropped to 192 in 2020 after Trump's tenure.
During that administration he whittled the cap on the number of refugees entering the U.S. down to 15,000 a historic low.
Yasmin Aguilar works as an Immigration Specialist for the Agency for New Americans in Boise, she also came here as a refugee from Afghanistan.
“That last administration destroyed the infrastructure that was established for the refugee program," she said. “It takes at least two years to establish back the infrastructure we had before.”
Fewer applicants means less money coming from application fees, which means less money to employ people to do medical screenings, cultural orientation programs and other work in the vetting process. But that’s just what happens outside of the states.
Stateside the toll on refugee resettlement programs was just as damaged.
“Many of those agencies who resettle refugees around the country closed the doors and also reduced staff," Aguilar said.
But for her, the story also hits close to home — her brother and niece got the green-light to move to the States five years ago. At the last minute, they were denied entry. The waiting, she said, is the real harm.
“The damage is mentally, emotionally happening to the family members who are thinking, oh, finally, we're reuniting,” Aguilar said. “The damage happened to them and not having the support.”
Fowzia and family saw another effect over the last four years: Xenophobia against people like them growing in the town they loved so much. Which is also why she’s chosen to not share her last name for this story.
“It's just the last couple, four years. It's just been like I get these weird stares,” Fowzia said. “Whether that's you're seeing me as an immigrant, you're seeing me as a Muslim.”
This doesn’t stop them from enjoying their life, she said, or seeing the good in people here.
At the start of the Biden administration, it said it was going to keep the 15,000 cap on refugees entering the country, but after an outcry, the White House said it plans on increasing that number next month.
“You know, we know that the process is going to be long,” Fowzia said, “but we have the hope that will help us be more patient.”
For now nothing has changed for Fowzia’s father. Yasmin says her brother has been reaching out to immigration to no luck. They’ve been waiting for a while but that’s not stopping them from holding onto the hope of seeing each other again.
Follow Gustavo Sagrero on Instagram @gus.chavo
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