Waiting for President Donald Trump to reveal his planned refugee policy has been difficult for Zaid Alibadi.
Alibadi left his native Iraq after working with the U.S. military and embassy in his native country.
His family faced reprisals for Alibadi’s work, so his mother and brother left the country as refugees and joined him in Columbia, where Alibadi is now a graduate student at the University of South Carolina.
But approval for Alibadi’s sister Shahad to join the rest of the family has been delayed. It could be delayed even more by Trump’s move Friday to suspend temporarily refugee resettlement from Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries.
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“I’m the only one who’s optimistic, frankly,” Alibadi said. “My mom is a mess. She’s been crying. I hope I’m right to be optimistic.”
Trump signed an executive order late Friday. Initial reports say the new president is moving to suspend the admission of all refugees for 120 days, and halt any immigration for at least 90 days from Iraq and six other Muslim-majority nations – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
It could have been worse, Alibadi figures.
Trump’s order reportedly also includes an indefinite ban on admitting refugees fleeing the ongoing civil war in Syria.
“I’m a little relieved,” Alibadi said. “From the news, I thought it might be a ban on all refugees.”
Alibadi left Iraq in 2013 as safety deteriorated after the U.S. withdrawal in 2011.
Alibadi and his family received threats from militias affiliated with Iran, and saw friends and family members die in the escalating violence.
That makes Shahad Alibadi’s situation all the more worrisome for her family.
“I’ve tried not to transmit any bad news to her, you know,” Alibadi said. “But she immediately called me yesterday when she saw something about (Trump’s planned order) on the news, and I tried to reassure her.”
Even without a temporary shutdown, the Alibadis may have to wait for Shahad to arrive.
Alibadi has heard from other refugees that women with young children often have to wait until their children are a year old to receive permission to travel. While waiting for her refugee status, Shahad Alibadi gave birth to a daughter, Fatimah, now 7 months old.
The family still is waiting an update on Shahad’s case from the U.N. International Office on Migration.
Zaid Alibadi hopes the planned 120-day suspension on refugees will represent only a short pause before progress resumes on his sister’s application to come to the United States.
Still, Alibadi thinks Trump’s move Friday decision was an “injustice.”
“I still have many colleagues in Iraq, in Kurdistan, who want to help the coalition. But this is their plan B,” he said. “What are they going to feel if they are treated the same as Iranians or Syrians who don’t have that relationship with the United States?”
For Alibadi’s family, the worst-case scenario is that a U.S. action knocks his sister’s efforts to get to safety back to the starting point.
“We’ve been waiting three and a half years,” Alibadi said. “A reset would be a nightmare.”