New York Times:
By Liz Robbins
November 23, 2015
They moved from street to street in Syria, dodging bullets and bombs. Finally, they fled to Jordan, where they lived an anxious existence as unwelcome refugees. And then, after three years of interviews and security checks, a Syrian family — a 33-year-old man, his 23-year-old wife and their almost 5-year-old son — were granted refugee status in the United States.
On Tuesday, they were on their way. The timing could not have been worse.
They were flying directly into a swirling public debate over the safety of admitting Syrian refugees to the United States in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks. Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana had joined the growing ranks of governors who announced that Syrians would not be welcome in their states. That morning, Governor Pence’s social service agency directed the Indianapolis resettlement organization not to accept these or any other Syrian refugees.
What still seems jarring to me — and, of course, more to this Syrian family — was that his decision had altered their future when they were in midair. On their first-ever airplane trip.
I was determined to show the people behind the policy.
Having reported on refugee resettlement over the past two months, I was familiar with the recent efforts by a New Haven agency to resettle Syrian families. I called on a hunch and learned more than I expected. Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services in New Haven had eagerly arranged to accept this family, the first to be diverted.
On Wednesday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut personally welcomed the family to great fanfare, recounting to me how “beautiful” they were, and how firm a handshake the boy had.
Afraid of endangering their families in Syria and in Jordan, the couple agreed to speak to me for the article I wrote for Saturday’s paper, but only on the condition that I used initials rather than their names and agreed not to run any photographs of them, even shaded ones.
We spoke in a sunny playroom on the second floor of the immigrant resettlement agency while their son played with wooden blocks and a toy school bus.
Charming and charismatic, the family told me that some Americans have mistaken ideas about refugees and Muslims. They spoke about their five-year journey and how they were devastated and depressed to be rejected by Indiana.
But, within 20 hours of their arrival, they were soon overwhelmed by the kindness with which they were welcomed into their new home. “Now we have fallen in love with Connecticut,” the father, A., said. “Now if they tell us to go back there, there is no way we would go to Indiana.”
A. told me he sold used clothes in Syria. With a grin, he said he learned to tell everybody they looked good in whatever they tried on. A salesman in any language. A. himself looked sporty in black suede shoes. They were European, he said, and had been donated in Jordan.
A. spoke in Arabic, but looked directly at me instead of the translator when he spoke, as if there were no language barrier. He said he was the one who taught his son to give a firm handshake.
The mother, F., described having to flee her country and to live in Jordan as a second-class citizen. Her son could not go to school; her husband could not work legally. In a heart-wrenching moment, she said she had suffered four miscarriages.
The couple had been married for six years. Their obvious affection for each other was evident.
They were not able to enjoy the beach honeymoon they had planned in Syria. They were busy, and then there was war. On Friday, they drove by what passed for a beach in West Haven.
“See?” A. said, recalling their conversation earlier in the day. “I took you, here it is.”
F. smiled and rolled her eyes. “You,” she said with deadpan humor, “can sleep on the couch tonight.” We all cracked up, a cathartic moment to an emotional day.
As I traveled to New Haven for the interview on Friday, I thought about my grandfather Sam, who had fled the pogroms in Ukraine as an adolescent.
At the end of the interview, I told A. and F. this, and about how he had found a new, welcoming home — in Connecticut. F. smiled and said, “That’s why you understand.”
We are, of course, all immigrants, at least in some way. We all have stories. Some like that of the Syrian family apparently have special resonance: Since the initial article I wrote and the interview on Friday, donations and letters of support have been pouring in to IRIS, the New Haven agency, which will use the money to help resettle more refugees this year.
Some emails and donations came from Indiana, from citizens who said they were ashamed of their state. They felt compelled to show that not all Hoosiers view refugees with suspicion or fear. One person even posted on IRIS’s Facebook page an offer to give the family free Hula-Hoop lessons.
Sometimes generosity knows no boundaries.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com