Settlement brings hope that refugee families will be reunited

Monday, February 10, 2020
When President Trump announced that the U.S. would no longer be accepting refugees from seven majority-Muslim nations in March 2017, Jeffrey Doe was forlorn. The SeaTac airport worker had already waited years to be reunited with his parents and siblings, Somali refugees living in a refugee camp in Kenya.

“When you’re separated from your family, it’s like a piece of you is missing,” said Doe, who lives in Federal Way, Washington.

Such longing has become of a way of life for Doe and his family. Members of the Barawe tribe, a minority tribe in Somalia, they were brutally attacked in their home by five or six men in military uniforms in 1993, when Doe was four years old.

The attackers broke down the door and forced their way into the house to demand money. They raped Doe’s aunt and killed her. They also killed Doe’s 18-month-old sister.

The rest of the family escaped and traveled by sea for three days to arrive in Lamu, Kenya, where they were placed in the Saint Anne refugee camp. In November 1998, they were transferred to Kakuma refugee camp, which is home to some 185,000 people.

Growing up in a refugee camp

Doe grew up in Kakuma, which had a de facto curfew of 7:30 p.m. because it was too dangerous to be out later. It was there he met and married his wife, Rahma. Despite their many efforts to join him in the U.S., Doe’s parents still live in Kakuma. 

Doe’s parents first applied for refugee status through the U.S. Refugee Admissions/UNCR program in December 2005. In June 2006, they had a USCIS interview, and in July 2006, they received an approval letter from USCIS.  They had their first medical examination shortly thereafter, but it expired. They have received continuous deferrals since 2006 and numerous medical examinations, as each medical clearance is only valid for six months. In total, his parents have had eleven medical examinations, the last in March 2017, which has also expired.

Doe separated his case from his family’s in 2013 and combined it with his wife’s.  By then, he had three young daughters and was hoping to increase his new family’s chances of leaving Kakuma for a better life.

After 22 years of living in refugee camps, Jeff Doe arrived in the United States on December 2, 2015 with Rahma and their girls, Leyla, Fatuma, and Fardosa.

Building a life, with loss

Doe, who had never had electricity in his home until he moved to the U.S., found a job in a recycling center in downtown Seattle that required an arduous commute on two buses and a train. Later, he got a job at Essential Bakery and was able to carpool with a friend. But his friend moved on and Doe lost his ride, so he became an Amazon delivery driver. In October 2017, Doe began working as a ramp agent at Seattle Tacoma International Airport. The job is steady, close to his home, and pays better than his previous jobs.

Though Doe has found joy in building a life with his family in the United States, a sense of loss persists.

Doe texts with his family regularly, and they speak on the phone three to four times a week. He speaks the most with his mother, his elder brother, and his younger sister. His father had a stroke in June 2015 and is no longer able to talk, though he can recognize Doe’s voice. Doe’s daughters ask him when they are going to get to see their grandmother again and cry because they miss her.  His parents have never held their grandson, Muad, who was born in June 2017 in the United States. Doe often wakes in the middle of the night thinking of his family and missing them.

Doe and his family are Muslim. Every week, on Saturdays and Sundays, they go to the mosque near their home and pray for their family members still in the refugee camp, and that they will be reunited soon. 

Now that the government has agreed to prioritize all the refugee cases that were held up by President Trump’s Executive Order banning certain refugees from entering the United States, their prayers may be answered.

 “This settlement gives me hope we will one day be together again,” Doe said.

The settlement resolves two lawsuits that were consolidated, Doe et al. v. Trump et al., and Jewish Family Service of Seattle et al. v. Trump et al. The lawsuits, which were filed by the ACLU of Washington and the law firm of Keller Rohrback L.L.P., challenged the refugee portion of President Trump’s series of Executive Orders banning certain populations from entering the United States, also known as the “Muslim Ban.” The ban prevented the immediate family members of refugees (known as “follow-to-join” refugees), as well as refugees from 11 countries, from entering the United States.