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Somalis In U.S. Wonder What Will Happen To Family Abroad


The news this morning is, of course, fallout from President Trump's executive order on immigration. That includes a freeze on all refugee resettlements for up to four months and a review of the vetting process for refugees coming from predominantly Muslim countries. We're going to hear from one Somali family that entered the U.S. before the ban went into effect. They arrived in Lowell, Mass., on Wednesday. WBUR's Shannon Dooling has their story.

SHANNON DOOLING, BYLINE: Hawo Ahmed said landing in the U.S. earlier this week felt like a dream. She and her family from Somalia could hardly believe they'd made it after beginning their refugee application six years ago. They bought new winter boots and jackets when they got word they were headed for a new home in Massachusetts. Hawo said as soon as she got off the plane, she saw an airport television with news anchors talking about President Trump's plans to stop accepting refugees.

HAWO AHMED: Even tears were filled up in my eyes 'cause I felt very bad for others. They have more expectation. Some have been told where they are going, which state they are going. And if they stop all these things, it's going to be very painful.

DOOLING: The 24-year-old arrived in Lowell with her sisters and their mother. The family fled Somalia amid the Civil War in 1993 and headed for Kenya, where the girls grew up and learned English. Hawo was a baby when the family left and only knows what her mother has told her about that time.

AHMED: She said that it was, like, conflict all over the country. People were killing each other like tribes. Different tribes were killing each other. And they even used to come in the houses to rape the girls and kill them. So they had to move.

DOOLING: Many other members of the family fled Somalia, as well. Hawo says her aunt and cousin live in a refugee camp in Kampala, Uganda. They only had one more interview in the vetting process before they were hoping to meet Hawo and her family in Massachusetts. Now Hawo's not sure what will happen to them.

AHMED: I couldn't sleep last night. I just think about them. And she has been in the process for so long. And we want - if you can help her.

DOOLING: Resettlement agencies are accustomed to hearing these worries from refugees distraught about family members left behind. Jeff Thielman is president of the International Institute, the agency that brought the Ahmed family to Lowell. Thielman says there are countless stories like theirs, families going through the proper procedures, trying for years to reunite. And now, with Trump's executive action, he's not sure just how long that wait will be.

JEFF THIELMAN: We know how heartbreaking it is for this whole process to happen. And they're doing everything right to come to the United States. They're doing everything they're supposed to do to come here. But there's this obstacle to getting here.

DOOLING: Of course, proponents of Trump's restrictions argue there may not be enough obstacles to being resettled in the U.S. Jessica Vaughan is director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that supports limiting immigration. Vaughan says it's about time the refugee resettlement system got an overhaul.

JESSICA VAUGHAN: The point is to make sure that we are not unnecessarily putting ourselves at risk or assisting ISIS, which has promised to infiltrate the refugee flow by being reckless and going forward with a program that needs a review.

DOOLING: And while the Trump administration pushes forward with that review, Hawo and her family are grateful to be in the U.S. She says she's eager to start college, to get a degree in business and to help her family still living in the refugee camp. For NPR News, I'm Shannon Dooling in Massachusetts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shannon Dooling

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