Millions of people around the world have been forced from their home countries due to war, genocide, or persecution. They come from conflict-ridden countries, including Syria, Somalia and Sudan. They often wait for years in refugee camps before they can secure a safe home in a new country. The United States takes in just a tiny fraction of the world’s refugees — but it maintains perhaps the strictest, most rigorous vetting.
ST. CLOUD — Halima Abdi Nur and her husband Hassan Daahir Ahmed marked their two-year wedding anniversary last week, but the couple hasn’t been together since they married, Nur said.
She’s been waiting for him to join her in the U.S., but President Donald Trump’s immigration and travel ban and Ahmed’s status as a Somali national has stalled the process.
Nur lives in St. Cloud and traveled to Zambia to marry Ahmed after they fell in love corresponding by phone.
“I’m crazy for him,” Nur said. “He’s handsome. He’s tall. He’s very very nice.”
She completed immigration paperwork for her spouse and he went through the process in Zambia, including a health exam and interview, Nur said. But in July an official told Ahmed that Trump’s executive order — a travel ban against predominantly Muslim countries upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June — would halt his immigration proceedings.
There are exceptions allowed in the executive order, but they haven’t been put into practice, said Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He said he only knows of one Somali national allowed into the U.S. since the first version of the ban was instated — a little girl who was reunited with her mother in Minnesota in early 2017.
Since the travel ban upended Nur’s plans, she’s become heartsick and fixated on the news. She lost weight and withdrew from some social activities, she said.
“I am so tired, because all my dreams are upside down,” Nur said.
Nur fled Somalia in 1991 at age 19. She met her first husband at a refugee camp in Kenya. They both volunteered to help build shelters for needy people in the camp, Nur said.
Shortly after they married, he died of malaria. Nur was pregnant. It was a difficult time she doesn’t like to revisit.
Nur’s son is now 23 and studies computer science at St. Cloud State University, she said. When he was 4, Nur brought her son and her little sister to America with her cousin’s family.
They landed in Seattle in December without jackets or appropriate shoes, Nur said. She still thinks of the woman who furnished them with coats and shoes.
Nur spent five years in Seattle, working and rising in the ranks of a small company that transported and directed people around Sea-Tac airport, she said.
When her son visited family in St. Cloud and wanted to live here, she packed up and made the move with him and her sister, Nur said. It was 2005. She worked first at a Gold’n Plump in Cold Spring, then spent four years at Electrolux, she said.
Now Nur works as a personal care attendant.
She met her current husband through a mutual friend who had shared her photo. Nur and Ahmed talked for three months on the phone before deciding to marry, she said. “Too much talk, too much love, too much laughing.”
When the couple married, Nur spent two weeks in Zambia and even strangers could tell they were in love, she said.
She’s reached out to public officials and non-profit groups for help. Congressman Tom Emmer’s office sent her a form to fill out to allow them to look into her problem.
Emmer couldn’t comment on individual cases, but his staff work to connect people with the right authorities, he said last week. “Our job is to make sure, to the extent we can, we help you.”
Nur is also hoping for help from Minnesota’s U.S. senators.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Sen. Al Franken worked on the case of the little Somali girl separated from her mother, Hussein said.
“Pretty much no one has come through the waiver process,” Hussein said. But the travel ban executive order does have language to allow for exceptions for heavily-vetted people.
He’s heard of the ban keeping out immediate family members of Somali-Americans and people seeking to come for medical reasons.
At the start of his term, Trump first signed an order denying entry to people from seven majority-Muslim countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.
It was protested and disputed in courts. Two other versions were challenged in court until the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the third version, which added Venezuela and North Korea to the list of countries. Somalia remained on the list.
“The entry into the United States of nationals of Somalia as immigrants is hereby suspended,” states the September 2017 version of the proclamation. “Additionally, visa adjudications for nationals of Somalia and decisions regarding their entry as nonimmigrants should be subject to additional scrutiny to determine if applicants are connected to terrorist organizations or otherwise pose a threat to the national security or public safety of the United States.”
The ban has impacted potential immigrants to the U.S. as well as American residents with Somali roots.
Some people in the Somali community here worry about being deported, even if they’re not at risk of deportation, Hussein said. It’s stirred up anxiety.
The new Congress could make some changes, he said. It could halt funding that supports the ban or put pressure on the Department of Justice to better expand and explain the waiver process and its irregularities.
Nur is still looking for help and holding out hope for a policy change.
She even reached out to people with Catholic Charities, Nur said. They told her they couldn’t help with her specific situation, but they could pray for her.
She welcomes prayers from people across faiths.
As unlikely as it may seem, she sometimes hopes her husband’s found a way to her when she hears a helicopter overhead, she said. “God help me. This brain is going crazy. This is crazy love.”
Nora G. Hertel: