KENT, Wash. – An Iraqi refugee family is settling into their new life in Kent just two days after arriving in the U.S.
The family was helped by one of five refugee resettlement programs in the state of Washington.
Big changes already happened and more could be on the way as President Donald Trump revises his travel ban on people from seven mainly-Muslim countries. Under the Obama administration, each year 110,000 refugees were to be allowed into the U.S. after being vetted. The Trump administration plans to cut that number down by more than half, to 50,000.
“The average stay in a refugee camp is 17 years and less than 1 percent even make it to the United States,” said John Forseth, resettlement program director for Lutheran Community Services Northwest.
Forseth had a hand in vetting those refugees, including the al-Dulaimi Family from Iraq.
“Every refugee is literally handpicked that comes to the United States through those nine resettlement agencies through the U.S. government,” said Forseth.
“He’s going to settle and he’s going to build a new life here,” said Iraqi refugee Saad al-Shimaroa, who translated what his cousin, Iraqi refugee Mustafa al-Dulaimi, told Q13 News in an interview.
Mustafa, his wife, Marwah, and his sister-in-law Rusul fled Iraq the day after the couple's wedding. They waited three years before getting the call they would be able to start a new life in the Puget Sound. There was just one problem: The Trump administration’s travel ban temporarily halted their trip.
When the courts lifted the restrictions, “We heard there was going to be more security, more vetting, but we really didn’t know what that was,” said Forseth.
Mustafa soon found out.
“So when they got to the airport, one of the immigration officers -- he pulled him and he took him to a room for almost between two and three hours. He didn’t ask him any questions and just told him to sit there. And Mustafa told them he’s got a handicap. And his wife, they don’t know where he’s at,” said al-Shimaroa, translating for al-Dulaimi.
Mustafa says at first he wasn’t asked any questions. However, during the course of his three-hour detainment, he was asked about his name and background -- questions, he says, he had already answered during the years of vetting. He says he was told it was just "procedure." However, it’s nothing like what his cousin Saad experienced as an Iraqi refugee 24 years ago.
“I didn’t get any interview when I got here. I did my interview back in Saudi (Arabia) when I was in a (refugee) camp. We did all the vetting questions over there and we went through a normal procedure,” said al-Shimaroa.
As the country and refugee resettlement programs wait for word about the revised travel ban, Forseth seeks donations for the refugees still on the way.
Mustafa urges the community to consider lending a hand. He says those refugees, like him, are fleeing terrorists like ISIS and are not joining them.
“It’s very difficult for somebody with family and a handicap girl and go through all the hassle he went through for three years, after all that he suffers and comes to this country and thinks that to hurt the American people, that’s impossible,” said al-Shimaroa, translating for al-Dulaimi.
The al-Dulaimi family now lives in an apartment in Kent. Donations from the community helped stock their kitchen and gave them toiletries. Next week, their donated furniture will arrive. In the coming days, Mustafa al-Dulaimi will sit down with his case manager to start looking for a job and schooling. He has a degree in accounting from his studies in Iraq.
Forseth says he’s confident he’s not helping ISIS members or ISIS supporters enter the U.S. He also says Lutheran Community needs help with the families brought here as refugees. Because the agency only get about a third of its funding from the federal government, he's asking donors to step up.
Lutheran Community Services Northwest and The Hope Lutheran Human Care Ministry will put together welcome kits for local refugee families the next two weekends. The items most at need are bedding items. All other new or like-new items for the kitchen, household, or hygiene will be accepted and greatly appreciated.
You can drop off donations at Hope Lutheran Church at 4456 42nd Ave SW, Seattle, this Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon or next Saturday, March 4, from 9 a.m. to noon.