Iraqi refugees still worry about family at home, but are making the most of being in America
Zaid Alibadi still doesn’t know when he might see his sister again, and the 33-year-old worries she is still in danger.
More than two years after he was reunited with his mother and brother in Columbia, the University of South Carolina graduate student still is waiting to learn if his sister, Shahad, will make it out of their native Iraq.
Alibadi’s family was granted refugee status because of his work with the U.S. military and embassy in Baghdad before he came to the United States on a student visa in 2013. That work made his family a target for anyone unhappy with the U.S.-led Iraqi war and occupation.
“The whole attitude toward the United States and anyone affiliated with the United States is not very friendly, to put it mildly,” Alibadi said.
Shahad would have left Iraq with the rest of the family in 2016, but she just had given birth to her daughter, Fatimah. Now, it has been months since she has had contact with U.S. immigration officials, and her family is still unsure when she might join them.
The delay is partly due to a cut in the number of refugees admitted to the United States under President Donald Trump’s administration, which cited security concerns.
“A few months ago, I checked the stats and the number of refugees in 2018 from Iraq was around 300,” Alibadi said. “In July of 2016, the number was 3,000 in a month.”
Shahad and her family have had to move within Iraq due to safety concerns, Alibadi said.
The political situation in Iraq also has become less favorable for Iraqis with ties to the United States. In elections this year, Iraqi parties with ties to Iran and Shiite militias gained seats in parliament, wielding more influence over the Iraqi government.
“They are not able to ... directly harm the United States,” he said. “So, they will try to harm anyone who is close to them.”
While they wait, life has gone on for Alibadi’s family in the United States.
Alibadi’s brother Hasan recently started work in information technology at Amazon’s Lexington County distribution center. His mother has bought a house.
Alibadi’s life will change soon as well.
While his family has refugee status, he was admitted to the United States on a student visa. And, this spring, he will finish his graduate degree at the University of South Carolina, where he’s working on an artificial intelligence program to better filter your email.
That will bring an end to his student visa. His wife’s work authorization also expired this year and has yet to be renewed.
Now, the couple is busy applying for Canadian visas — just to be safe.