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A Letter From an Iraqi Student About His Struggle and Trump’s Travel Ban

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Success is not easy to obtain, but my dream has always been to study in the United States. I am from a small village in Hawigha City, Kirkuk, which is located in the northern area of Iraq. I am married and have four kids. I am an electrical engineer who had aspirations of earning a Master’s degree here in America. In June 2013, I had a chance to get a scholarship to study here. I completed all of the requirements to receive a sponsorship. In March 2014, I had an interview at the US embassy in Baghdad and was preparing for my final step in the process of obtaining my visa for travel. I was so very close to achieving my goal but I almost lost my opportunity on June 10, 2014 when something went terribly wrong: ISIS invaded my city. I was so sad for all of our people, but also because I was feeling like my plans may never happen. I was concerned. I thought, “what if ISIS knows about me and my plan to leave for my studies? Will I die?” It wasn’t until about five months later that I received an email from the US embassy that my visa was complete. I was so happy, but needed to figure out how to escape the ISIS controlled area. I knew it would have to be done in secret. I told no one that my plan was to travel to Baghdad. I did tell my parents that I was going to the United States. My father told me “Are you crazy? You are digging your own grave.” My mother worried, “if they catch you, they will kill you. How can you leave us and your kids?” I told my parents that I had a goal and my plan was to attain it. I told my parents that I will travel and bear these problems.

I did find a secret way to get to Baghdad. It was a dangerous plan but on December 26, 2014, I traveled by car with strangers. My parents knew of my departure; however, I didn’t even tell my wife. I remember the driver of the vehicle telling me that they can’t be responsible for keeping my life safe during the trip. He went on to say that if we could just cross the fighting point, then we would be safe. I cannot describe my insecurities. I spent two nights on the street sleeping. The sounds were strange and unsettling. Once I arrived in Baghdad, I felt a little better, but I was still not safe. After two days in Baghdad, I received my passport from the US embassy. I called my family and let them know that I would be leaving in ten days for America. I felt like a bird beginning to fly, but I knew I would start this journey without a farewell from my family. I wished I could hug my parents, my kids and my wife. On my way to the airport I got to speak by phone to my father and oldest child. My oldest child asked me when I would return and I cried. Every day that I remember his question, I cry. My father’s encouraging words were “you should be strong; you have a long journey.” There were no departing words from my wife, just tears and the sounds of her speaking my name. I arrived at the airport with no goodbye.

I finally arrived in the United States on January 23, 2015. I was happy to complete my first step. The dream was alive, but I came bearing many personal problems. They have gotten a little easier as I meet supportive people in the U.S. that help me through difficult times. I am still reaching for the moon with their help. I am a small village man with big dreams. I know my family is proud because I am studying in the United States. I am earning my success.

Recently, I have begun the process of trying to get visas for my wife and my children to come visit me. In mid-January of 2017, my family also had an opportunity to escape our beloved farm. They spent three long days walking to safety. This journey was not easy, as my youngest child is merely two years old and my mother is not a young woman. When I received word that they had escaped to a safer Iraq, I was relieved and happy. Since coming to the University of New Haven, I have made a lot of friends and have had support from many UNH and ELS faculty. I have a new diverse extended family here that consists of Americans, other Iraqis, and people from around the world. I want nothing more than to have both this new extended family and my wife and children with me for the remainder of my studies. If the escape was not hard enough for the family, the process of getting them here is proving to be even more difficult.

On January 27, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order that could prevent them from coming. Iraq is one of the seven Muslim majority countries that are listed in his “ban.” I have tried to wrap my head around this ban and tried to understand it. I am certain my children don’t know what ISIS means. I am certain they don’t understand a ban. I am certain that every time I hear my oldest son on the phone ask me “when will we come?” I cry.

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A Letter From an Iraqi Student About His Struggle and Trump’s Travel Ban