My story with American immigration law did not start when I started practicing law in 2016. It did not start when I translated for an Iraqi client applying for asylum in the Immigration Clinic at Wayne State. It did not start in the winter of 2014, when I was sitting in Professor Weinberg’s Immigration and Nationality Law Class. My first exposure to American Immigration Law commenced 20 years prior to sitting in Professor Weinberg’s class, in a small town in Southern Iraq, Al-Khudr. Although I was only 4, I can recall my mother telling my younger brother and I that we will reunite with our father in America. America was a dream for every Iraqi at the time. How can it not be when on one hand, Iraqis were fighting for their lives, fending off starvation due to the sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council, and on the other hand, it mean escaping the iron fist rule of the Ba’athist tyrannical regime.
My father fled Iraq after the 1991 uprisings there. He was a local hero who roamed the streets of Al-Khudr during the uprising chanting, “Saddam is a tyranny, he must go.” After the uprising failed, my father and thousands of Iraqis fled through the desserts to Saudi Arabia. He lived in a concentration camp in Saudi Arabia’s desserts for three years. In those same desserts, my wife was born after her parents, who coincidently are from the same town, escaped their presumed death in 1991. Growing up, my father would tell us about his life in the desserts of Saudi Arabia. “We were in an open prison,” he would describe. “We waited for any opportunity to migrate to one of the Western countries. I was presented with different countries to migrate to through the United Nations. I choose America because I wanted a better life for you.”
I saw my father for the first time at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport in 1997. That moment when we embraced one another tightly was the start of the American dream for me. That is why in 2017, 20 years later, I was back in the Detroit Metropolitan Airport for a massive protest against President Trump’s Muslim Ban because I did not want the American dream to end for the next 7-year-old child who is escaping war, tyranny, starvation, trying to find a glimmer of hope in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Executive Order 13769, titled Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, referred to rightfully as the Muslim Ban, was very dear and near to me. I took it personally because if that same order was enacted in 1997, it could have precluded my mother, brother and I from reuniting with my father. Moreover, I take it personally because as we speak, it is preventing some of my clients from Yemen and Syria from reuniting with their families. It is simply heartbreaking.
I am blessed to be where I am at today, able to live in a country with endless opportunities. Although we might take such opportunities for granted, millions upon millions of people from all over the world would risk their lives to be in our position. The most common question I get from my relatives and friends in Iraq every time I visit is, “how can we migrate to America.” It is a question that millions of people on all six continents desperately want the answer for. Being in a position to answer that question and to translate people’s dreams into a reality by navigating through a very convoluted and complex immigration system has been a fulfilling journey. There is nothing more rewarding than helping people, like my father, who simply want to chart a better life for themselves and their families, accomplish their immigration goals.
We speak Arabic.