When Adnan Alnabolsi glances at his cell phone to check the time or to make a call, a photo of his son, Waseem, smiles back at him. At the store, when Alnabolsi opens his wallet to make a purchase, the same image of Waseem is the first thing he sees.
Since arriving in Turlock from Syria in May 2016, Alnabolsi and his wife, Monira Alzin, have gone for walks around Donnelly Park and made themselves familiar with the city’s different stores. He’s passed his driving test, and the couple has gone sightseeing in San Francisco. So far, they’ve made a home for themselves here in the United States, but one thing is missing.
“I’m not living my true life without my son with me,” said Alnabolsi.
Waseem, a 25-year-old student who is studying to become a lawyer, was supposed to leave for America one week after his parents, but now, his future is uncertain.
The Trump administration confirmed last week that the President will cap admissions of refugees at 45,000 in 2018 – the lowest number in modern American history, said Karen Ferguson, executive director of the International Rescue Committee’s Northern California offices.
“It’s just disappointing…no, not disappointing. It’s more like devastating,” said Ferguson. “There is just absolutely no need to be going down to a number like this.”
Trump has already slashed refugee admissions once since taking office with a 50,000 maximum-entry mark set earlier this year as part of his travel ban executive orders. While the first executive order laid out by Trump in January has attracted legal challenges, a new travel ban announced last week bars everyone from Syria and North Korea from obtaining visas and restricts travel by most citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad and North Korea.
These regulations put forth by the Trump administration, coupled with the discrimination Waseem faces daily in Egypt, where he and his family are currently waiting in limbo, have left Alnabolsi unsure if he will be able to see his son again.
“It’s a terrible shame,” said Turlock IRC office site manager Jim Stokes. “You’re hearing his story, he’s separated from his family right now. When we’re talking about the numbers being lowered to 45,000 – two years ago we were up at 110,000 – you’re going to see a lot more families separated and waiting for one another.”
Alnabolsi and his family fled to Egypt from Syria in 2015 to escape the “bombings, killing and airstrikes” that plagued the country, he said. An inflated economy drove the price of bread from 25 cents to three or four dollars, he said, adding that if citizens spoke out about the crumbling state of their home, they could expect to be jailed or put to death by the country’s leadership.
As they fled, the family became separated due to a lack of safe space, sleeping in different homes and only keeping in contact with each other by talking on the phone. It was too tough for them to be apart from one another, said Alnabolsi, so they then decided to go to Egypt.
A year later, after extensive paperwork, several interviews and background checks, the paperwork was set for Alnabolsi and his family to make their trek to the United States. Originally, Waseem was supposed to leave before Alnabolsi and Alzin, but he insisted they try and fly to America together.
“In Egypt, the public is friendly with Syrian families, but the government is tough on them,” said Alnabolsi.
Agents at the international Organization for Migration in Egypt didn’t appreciate the favor that Waseem had asked, said Alnabolsi, and punished him for asking, making him wait behind as his parents left for America. Since Alnabolsi and Alzin left Egypt, Waseem has gotten married and welcomed the couple’s first grandchild.
Now, Alnabolsi doesn’t know if he will reunite with his son and his family in America, as they had planned, or be faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to return to the Middle East to be with his son.
“I would be leaving heaven and going back to hell,” said Alnabolsi.
A former architect in Syria, Alnabolsi doesn’t understand the ban (“Will it affect my son because he is from Syria?” he asked), nor the idea that refugees, Muslims in particular, cause security concerns among some Americans.
“If the President comes to me and sits down with me, I will change his mind right away because Islam is not that way,” said Alnabolsi, adding that he and his wife are not “extremists,” like some believe. “We believe in God, but he’s God for everyone. We see our religion here in America…in how people respect each other and are thankful for their freedom.”
The fear of refugees is unwarranted, added Stokes.
“I think in this day and age we like empirical evidence or data,” he said. “When we’re having a conversation about refugees and this travel ban, the data isn’t there to justify it. There aren’t examples of people from these affected countries doing damage to the United States.”
The Turlock IRC office helped Alnabolsi and Alzin find housing in Turlock, and did so for 554 other refugees during Fiscal Year 2017, which ended Sept. 30. Though the new, lowered cap on refugee admissions won’t affect the number the Turlock IRC office had planned for in Fiscal Year 2018, which is 450, many people within the organization could still lose their jobs as a result of lowered funding, said Stokes.
Alnabolsi asked Stokes if there was any way he could find out when Waseem could come to America, but even he was unsure about when, how and if it could happen. He promised Alnabolsi and Alzin that an immigration expert from the IRC could sit down with them in the future and try to give the couple answers about their son.
“My first thought is, ‘Wow, that’s a tough ask,’” said Stokes. “We can talk to leadership in Oakland and see if we can figure it out, but my guess is we will have a tough time getting an answer.”
Stokes and the Turlock IRC office continues to educate the public about refugees and their plight to live in a safe environment. He and a panel will discuss the documentary “The White Helmets,” a film about the group of volunteer rescue workers who risk their lives to save victims trapped in the rubble caused by military airstrikes in Syria.
The event will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. on Nov. 2 at the Modesto Junior College East Campus in Forum Building Room 110.