Listen: 20170203_PKG Immigrant couples in limbo (Feshir, Yuen)

MPR’s Riham Feshir and Laura Yuen present reports on Iraqi and Somali immigrant families separated due to implementation of a U.S. travel ban from seven Muslim-majority countries. Segment includes interviews with family members.


2017 MBJA Eric Sevareid Award, first place in Hard Feature - Large Market Radio category


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SPEAKER 1: Immigrants, refugees, and their families have been scrambling for a week since President Donald Trump issued an Order, temporarily barring citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the United States. Today we'll meet two couples, one from Somalia, one from Iraq, who have been living apart for years. They thought they'd be reuniting this month, but with the president's order, they're navigating the deep uncertainty of living continents apart indefinitely. Reporters Riham Feshir and Laura Yuen take us inside the chaos.




MARYAM: When are you coming?

RIHAM FESHIR: Every time seven-year-old Maryam asks her dad that question, he gets quiet on a telephone screen in front of his energetic, bubbly little girl. It's an unanswerable question that many immigrants bound for the United States are getting now. Hasanain Mohammed was set to arrive to Minnesota two days after President Trump signed an executive order, temporarily banning all immigrants from seven countries, including Iraq.

Hasanain was stopped by Baghdad airport security and was told he could not get on the plane. Instead, he calls his family here in Minnesota. They joke about his daughter's two missing front teeth, then they talk about what he'll bring her back from Iraq.

HIND: He said you have to have fake teeth, because you are an old woman now.

RIHAM FESHIR: At one point Maryam walks away to grab a spelling test she's so proud of. That's when her parents conversation takes a serious tone.


RIHAM FESHIR: From the time she heard the news about you, her mom tells her dad, Maryam has been angry. She hit her friend because she's jealous her dad lives with her. She says, how come her dad is here, and my dad isn't.

Hasanain is a carpenter back in Iraq. His wife, Hind, is a paralegal student in the Twin Cities. Hind and Hasanain have been married for eight years. She's a US citizen, and the last time they saw each other was five years ago.

He hasn't seen his daughter, Maryam, since she was a baby. Now they're left wondering if they'll ever reunite. The process has been long, applications and interviews took almost two years. Hasanain finally got his visa on January 20th, the same day President Trump took the oath of office. While it's the president's actions that are keeping their family apart, Hint says she gets it.


RIHAM FESHIR: I can't blame him, she says, he's defending America and the government, and the people who are coming. I'm an American, I understand the fear. I understand the fear from terrorists who bombed this country. At school she was asked what she thought about immigration and if the US should open the doors to everybody.


RIHAM FESHIR: It's good to vet people to keep everyone safe.

HIND: We can let certain people [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

RIHAM FESHIR: But he banned everybody, she says, which surprised her. She knew during the presidential campaign that he promised immigration reform. But she didn't a ban from Muslim countries would come this fast. She also didn't know that her husband would be stopped from boarding a plane with a valid visa.

She's been working with attorneys to try to out the situation, but it seems the more information she gets, the more confused she is. Hasanain has a valid visa, she says, so what's the problem? She doesn't even want to think about the ban being extended beyond 90 days. It's even harder to explain to her kids, Maryam, and her older sister, Fatima why they won't get to see their dad.

HIND: She always say, mommy, I love America. I am from here, why it's like that happen? It's hard to explain to a child OK to be a patient. I've been explaining to her 15 months Daddy's coming, he's going to get visa. I don't know what to say to the children, to these girls.

RIHAM FESHIR: Still when Maryam Skypes with her dad, her face lights up. She smiles from ear to ear flashing those new front teeth, just peeking through. And she asks her dad to bring her toys and a princess dress just like Cinderella.

MARYAM: Can you get me my hoverboard?


RIHAM FESHIR: Then the toughest question of all comes up again.

MARYAM: Where are you?


MARYAM: Where are you? Riham Feshir, Minnesota Public Radio News.


LAURA YUEN: And I'm Laura Yuen in South Minneapolis. I'm going to tell you about a couple in a similar situation, this one from Somalia. At a law office down the block from the Aldi and across the street from the Dollar Store, immigrant clients are sitting patiently in a cramped waiting room. Their eyes are fixated on a TV set where a news station is reporting on Trump's latest decisions. That's where I found Mahamed Iye. We sat down with the help of an interpreter.


INTERPRETER: My name is Mahamed. Mahamed Iye has been seeking the help of immigration attorneys in the hopes of finally being reunited with his wife and kids. They have plane tickets to arrive in Minnesota on Sunday. But now with President Trump's immigration restrictions, any hope of a reunion this weekend seems snuffed out.

Life has always been complicated for Iye and his wife Saido. For five years, they've been working through the immigration process to bring Saido and the girls here from their home in Nairobi, Kenya. And then just two weeks ago, the visa for Saido finally arrived, Iye a US citizen, says it was the happiest of days. Triumphant he marched into the law office and asked his attorneys to make him a copy. And he's kept that Black and white copy of his wife's visa in his jacket's chest pocket ever since.

LAURA YUEN: So you carry this every day with you?


SPEAKER 2: Mm-hmm. Yeah, yes.


LAURA YUEN: Why do you carry it with you?



MAHAMED: So it feels like my wife is here with me, and that's like keeping her close.

LAURA YUEN: And now, Iye is coming to terms with the fact that this wrinkled piece of paper that he keeps beside his heart means nothing at the moment. a His wife Saido is a Somali national, and under President Trump's immigration ban, she won't be able to come here for at least 90 days. Both of their daughters are US citizens.


LAURA YUEN: He tells me the effort we put in for five years, at the last minute it feels like something stopped that effort. I feel like I worked so hard, but I haven't gotten the fruit of my labor. Iye hasn't canceled those plane tickets yet, he says the new beds in his three bedroom apartment are ready waiting for his family. The child car seats are latched in too. Iye has made a mental list of all the parks and playgrounds he wants to take his girls to.

But the US embassy in Nairobi has warned people who are from those seven affected Muslim countries not to try boarding a plane to the US even if they have their visas. His attorneys are saying the same, and Iye's wife has also been told by airline officials she won't be allowed to board. But Iye isn't ready to give up. His older daughter is disabled, and he says her life could vastly improve if she received adequate care in the US.

President Trump has said restrictions are needed to improve vetting of immigrants and refugees. But Iye says he wants all those who support Trump to know that his kids have the same needs as theirs. And as much as he wants to see his family, he understands that this weekend may not be the one he's dreamed of for years.


LAURA YUEN: He tells me it feels like there's a big wall that's between us. I'll try to get around it, however long it takes me to get there. Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio News, Minneapolis.


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