This is the story of one mother and son caught in the web of [immigration] delays beginning in 2020.
The Legacy of War
By Mary Beaudoin, Newsletter Staff / Women Against Military Madness Newsletter Vol. 40 No.6 Winter 2023
People needing to escape are one of the legacies of U.S. wars. For those in this situation, the consequences can reverberate for years. If the U.S. allows entry at all, it is based on national origin. When the U.S. went to war on Iraq, many people tried to flee to safety. As U.S. forces withdrew from Afghanistan, fleeing Afghans were given priority over Iraqis who wanted to enter the U.S. When the U.S./NATO proxy war with Russia over Ukraine caused Ukrainians to flee their country, the Ukrainians were given priority over the Afghans. Once again Iraqis were relegated to a lower position on the list.
Complicating matters further was the short-staffing of the National Visa Center of the U.S. Immigration Agency due to COVID-19.
This is the story of one mother and son caught in the web of delays beginning in 2020.
The woman’s husband Sami Rasouli is a U.S. citizen whose country of origin is Iraq. In 1986, he came to the U.S. to obtain medical treatment at the Mayo Clinic for a child.Rasouliput down roots in Minneapolis, became an American citizen and a successful business entrepreneur, starting Sinbad’s restaurant in Minneapolis, specializing in Middle Eastern cuisine. Then, in 2003, Rasouli saw Iraq, his country of origin, blown to bits by his adopted country in “Shock and Awe,” a strategy based on terrifying an “enemy” country with the use of overwhelming military power.
In 2004, Rasouli returned to his native city of Najaf. Hearing that the Iraqi government was hiring former teachers and having taught mathematics as a young man when Iraq had an excellent public school system, he went to the education administration to apply for a teaching position.
Rasouli noticed that the beautiful young woman who helped him fill out his employment application was not wearing a wedding ring.
In Middle Eastern societies, considerations of marriage traditionally involve family members.Within a week of meeting her, Rasouli sent his three sisters to ask the young woman, whose name was Suad, to marry him. She and Sami married and began family life with Suad’s four-year-old son, Ridha, by a previous marriage. (Sami’s own children in the U.S. were grown.)
Settling back in Najaf, Rasouli felt called to help his native city and organized the Muslim Peacemaker Team (MPT) to develop youth sports and civic programs for health, sanitation, and the environment, as infrastructure had been destroyed by war. The MPT defied the U.S. occupation agenda to divide the country along sectarianism lines. Team members went from the Shia capital, Najaf, to the Sunni capital, Fallujah, to work together as brothers cleaning garbage and detritus left in the streets by battles.
Having lived for years in both Iraq and the United States, Rasouli considered that he was in a special position for bringing about reconciliation between the people of both countries. Beginning in 2005, Rasouli traveled from Iraq to the U.S. many times. Sponsored by the Twin Cities Peace Campaign, Women Against Military Madness, and other antiwar organizations, he toured the United States, speaking about the effects of war on Iraq.
The years of U.S. war and occupation had taken an enormous toll on Iraq. The “constructive chaos” and “the birth pangs of a new Middle East” that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice so cavalierly proclaimed in 2006 was a nightmare for the people living there. Over a million Iraqis had been killed in the U.S. war and there were large numbers of widows, orphans, and wounded. Although international corporations were supplying oil to the world, the Iraqi people were struggling to survive in the broken country.
Rasouli’s efforts at peacemaking persisted. Going back and forth between the U.S. and Iraq, Rasouli acted as a people-to-people grassroots ambassador. He brought the work of Iraqi artists to the U.S. and initiated letters-for-peace pen pals and a project installing water filters in Iraqis schools and hospitals. He also brought Iraqi academics, medical professionals, businesspeople, and local officials to visit in the U.S.
In 2009, Najaf and Minneapolis had become official Sister Cities, engaging in citizen diplomacy and expanding understanding between the people of the twocities. Rasouli arranged for American visitors to live in his home and the homes of other Najaf residents while visiting, enabling them to absorb the culture and hold conversations in English and Arabic.
Over the years, Sami and Suad Rasouli had added to their family with three more children.
Sharing a mission compatible with Sister Cities, in 2017, Rasouli founded and directed the American Institute of English Language to continue the work of people-to-people exchanges.
By 2020, more than nine million Iraqis had been displaced internally or had become refugees. Iraq was increasingly unstable and chaotic. ISIS had wreaked havoc and cells were still active in some areas. Five thousand U.S. troops remained in Iraq. In an effort to drive them out, local militias fired rockets hitting inside the Green Zone in Baghdad, where the Iraqi government, and U.S. and foreign embassies were located. Apprehensive about the situation, Rasouli made preparations for his family to leave Iraq and come to the U.S.
In August of 2020, he arrived in the U.S. with three of the couple’s children. Omar, age 12, Roia, age eight, and Essa, age six, all of whom had been certified as U.S. citizens at birth. Rasouli planned to get situated quickly in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and have his wife, Suad, and son Rihad, age 17, both Iraqi citizens, follow soon after.
On September 18, disaster struck at the American Institute of English Language. Although the institute was approximately one hundred miles from Baghdad, an improvised explosive was set off at the institute location in Najaf. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but the building was severely damaged.
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Rasouli responded that “we can’t point a finger at anyone and we don’t know the real motive behind the accident, but the assumption is that the name of the institute, ‘The American Institute,’ may have upset some and caused it to be a target, though the name had been chosen for purely cultural, not political reasons.”
The U.S. State Department and Iraqi intelligence agency called Rasouli about the incident and recommended that he not return to Iraq, warning him that his life would be in danger. Sami asked the State Department official for help him getting his wife, Suad, and son, Ridha out of Iraq and into the U.S.; the official told him that it was not her area but an immigration matter.
Rose Grengs, a Minneapolis immigration attorney, began the legal process for family reunification, volunteering her services to help facilitate Suad and Ridha’s departure from Iraq and entry into the U.S. The required documentation for family reunification was completed, but the process with the U.S. government stalled.
A jubilant mother reunitres with her children after two years of family separation. Photo: Mary Beaudoin
Rasouli and the children kept in touch from the U.S. with their mother and brother in Iraq through social media nearly every day. The days went by – the separation was agonizingly long in the life of a mother separated from her young children, and children without their mother and brother. Friends in the U.S. provided some help to Rasouli as he began his life again. He sent money for Suad to live in Iraq, and struggled parenting three young children alone.
Two years later, on October 5, 2022, Suad and Rihad were informed that the process had begun to move. The embassy in Baghdad was permanently closed, so they needed to go to the U.S. consulate in Turkey for an appointment. They joined the two million Iraqi refugees in Ankara. As part of the process, they had to pass health screenings, and were checked for criminal records. Rihad, then 20 years of age, for whom there was no record or the slightest suspicion of criminal activity, was asked if he was a member of ISIS.
Finally, mother and son received visas and on December 12 left Turkey, arriving in Minneapolis the next day, where they were reunited with her husband and the three other children. The reunion was joyous and deeply moving. There was not a dry eye among the friends gathered to see Suad embrace her children and the siblings hug one another, now two years older. For this family the ordeal of separation was over at last.
But Rasouli says that he himself personally knows of five more men waiting for their wives to join them in the U.S. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are “more than 100 million people globally who have fled war, violence, and persecution.” These people and the heartache of family separation is another reason we say no to U.S. wars and call for reform of the U.S. immigration process.
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