When Iman Kashkash made it through customs at O’Hare International Airport six weeks ago her exhaustion from a long flight melted away.
“For me, it was like a dream come true just to come to see America and to see people coming to greet us,” she said in Arabic, relying on the aid of an interpreter.
But that joy has turned to fear and sadness as Kashkash and her family reckon with the possibility that her oldest son may never join them.
Kashkash, a 45-year old widow from Homs, Syria, and her family spent four years displaced in a Jordanian refugee camp. They made it through a grueling two-year vetting process to arrive in the United States in December.
She arrived with her teenage daughter and three sons, one of whom brought his wife and child. Volunteers from Heartland Alliance, a refugee resettlement program in Chicago, brought the seven to their new two-bedroom apartment in the Edgewater neighborhood.
“There was a lot of joy,” Kashkash said.
But one member of the family remains missing. Kashkash’s oldest son, Osama Rajoub, and his wife had been cleared for U.S. resettlement. But the couple had a baby shortly before they were set to leave Jordan, which delayed their flight to the U.S. because they needed to get medical paperwork for the newborn.
Kashkash said they all expected Rajoub’s family to join them in a couple months. But on Friday, watching Al Jazeera news at home, she learned of President Donald Trump’s executive order affecting Syrian refugee resettlements. At the time, she believed it simply halted all refugee arrivals for four months. In fact, it bans Syrian resettlements indefinitely.
“I felt sick and sad,” Kashkash said. “This is the first time in our lives we’ve been separated… We had just been waiting for word on when he would come.”
Kashkash’s youngest son, 24-year-old Bilal Rajoub, said he still does not fully understand who is affected by the executive order, and how. He said he has also started to question whether the family made the right decision to come to the U.S.
“We were really sad,” Bilal Rajoub said in Arabic. “They vetted us. (We did) interview after interview after interview. And we went through a long process. I don’t know why Syrians aren’t allowed to come.”
Kashkash said they were given the option to resettle in the U.S. or in France. Bilal Rajoub said going to France would have been a much faster process. Had they chosen to resettle there, he said, they would have been in France a year and a half ago.
“And my brother would have been with us,” Bilal Rajoub said. “But I waited for America for two years.”
Though they speak by phone with Osama Rajoub nearly every day, both Bilal Rajoub and Kashkash said they do not plan to break the news to him that the ban on Syrian resettlements is, in fact, indefinite.
Bilal Rajoub said his brother still believes it’s just a four month delay. Kashkash said they will wait four months before bringing it up with her son.
“Maybe the rules will change. Maybe they’ll have pity on us,” she said. “We have nothing to do with terrorists. They checked us and they know that we’re not terrorists. I’ll be patient and I hope the rule will change.”
Odette Yousef is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her at @oyousef.