Syrian Asylees

Sami and his family are fortunate. Sami had come to the U.S. on business in March 2011, before the revolution started.  He left his wife and young children in Syria, anticipating only a short trip.  He explains, “when the conflict started, most of my friends were under arrest because we used to work in media and criticize the regime. Plans changed and I applied for asylum.”  His wife and son and daughter fled to Jordan while they waited for permission to join Sami.

A year after Immigration granted his application, Sami came to Just Neighbors for help in applying for a green card.  Meanwhile, the Department of State interviewed and processed his wife and children so that they could join him.  Just Neighbors eventually helped each of them apply for green cards in 2014.  Sami wrote, “my family and I are very grateful to USA and the American people for being welcoming and warm-hearted.”

In October, over a year later, Sami invited his Just Neighbors attorney to an outreach event for asylees.  They met in the late afternoon of Friday, Nov. 13.  Sami was warm and gracious as they waited for the attorney’s turn to speak.  The TV monitors on the walls were displaying the breaking news of the terrorist attacks on Paris.  They had no idea that the Parisian nightmare had roots in Syria, or that some Americans would say refugees (people like Sami and his family) should be barred from entering the United States. Both the attorney and the volunteer articulated that they felt at peace to be with Sami.

Sami’s son is in the 4th grade.  His daughter is a bright-eyed first-grader.  Sami mused that his children would probably not speak Arabic as grown-ups, although he and his wife continue to speak their native language in the home and listen to Arabic music in the car.  Sami’s wife volunteers at the local social services and will help translate for Just Neighbors’ Syrian clients.  She and Sami take classes at the community college to improve their English language skills.  Sami, a talented as well as peaceful man, continues to rise in his profession in the news media.

That Friday afternoon, Sami said “Life is excellent here.  Life is very excellent.”

WHY WERE SAMI AND HIS FAMILY ABLE TO ENTER THE U.S.?

Sami’s family reached safety for several reasons.  Sami was fortunate that he was already out of Syria when the conflict began, and that his family escaped from Syria early.  Now four million Syrians are registered as refugees and twice that number have fled their homes and are either still in Syria or not yet registered as refugees.  (The United Nations High Commission on Refugees oversees the registration.)  Sami also had enough money to obtain passports, visas, and airplane tickets.  He was able to support his wife and children for two years as they waited for permission to enter the U.S.  Another reason is that Sami spoke English, facilitating his interactions with U.S. government officials as he obtained a visa, entered the U.S. and negotiated the process for himself and for his family.

IS SAMI’S EXPERIENCE TYPICAL?

Unfortunately, no. Sami entered the U.S. when Immigration was processing asylum applications fairly quickly.  It took six months for the local office to approve his case.  Today, the local asylum office in Arlington has such a backlog in asylum applications that it is currently interviewing applicants like Sami who filed applications over two years ago.  For Sami, that would have meant additional time before he could even begin to bring his wife and children to join him.

To provide a context, the local asylum office in Arlington had 5,000 cases pending when numbers were released in July 2015; in the month of June the office had completed fewer than 300 cases during the entire month.  Nationwide there are over 90,000 asylum applications pending before Immigration.

Sami paid an application fee to Immigration for his family’s green cards.  Most of Just Neighbors clients are eligible for a fee waiver from Immigration, because their household income is less than 150 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.  Sami was fortunate that he had been promoted and earned over $36,000.  That was the cut-off amount to be eligible for a fee waiver.  Nevertheless, he was eligible for Just Neighbors’ help because he earned less than $48,000.  (Just Neighbors limits our services to those at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline.)

Fee to Just Neighbors:   $100,   Wife’s application fee:  $1,070,  Son’s application fee:    $635,  Daughter’s application fee:  $635 ,  Fees to physician for medical examination form:  approximately $600

Total: $3,040

Sami had been eligible for a fee waiver on his own earlier application for a green card the previous year.  At that time, he was still getting his feet on the ground.   Later he was able to pay the airfare for his entire family, as well as the other costs.

HOW LONG DID IT TAKE?  

Sami was separated from his family for two years.  His family arrived in the U.S. in 2013.  They applied for their green cards in 2014.  It took only two months from the date the wife and children applied for their green cards to the date they received them.  Following is part of the email exchange between Sami and his attorney.  Although the number is increasing, only a small percentage of clients use e-mail to communicate with their attorney.

April 15, 2014:  Sami wrote:  Yesterday I got in the mail my kids green cards, with letters welcome to USA
today I got more two letters for the kids welcome to USA (copy of the others)
and I got welcome letter for my wife but we haven’t received her green card yet
I’ll keep you posted about her green card
 
and we’ll never forget your appreciated help
thank you so much

The attorney replied:  You are welcome.  This is not standard processing time – your wife and kids have received their green cards unusually quickly.  I can take no credit for that, but I’m especially glad for your wife.

April 18, 2014  Sami wrote:

this is just to let you know that we received my wife’s green card yesterday noon

. I can’t thank you enough, I really appreciate what you’ve done for us

thank you so much and keep in touch

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The mission of Just Neighbors is to provide immigration legal services to low-income immigrants and refugees in Virginia, especially those who are most vulnerable. We also seek to foster enriching experiences that enhance awareness and mutual understanding among our clients, volunteers, staff and community.

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