A Syrian family who reunited after suing President Donald Trump over his travel bans is now settling into life in Wisconsin.
Ahmad, 32, and his wife, Iman, spoke to The Associated Press at their lawyer’s office last week through a translator. They requested that only their first names be used to protect family members still in danger in Aleppo, Syria.
“I feel like I’m dreaming because an impossible thing became possible,” Iman, 25, said of their reunion and new Madison apartment with views of trees, squirrels and children on their way to school. “Waking up in Wisconsin made me regain my feeling of being safe. ... Waking up in Aleppo was a nightmare.”
Iman and the couple’s 3-year-old daughter had been living in hiding in an apartment regularly shaken by bombings and hit by gunfire. Iman said now their daughter is enjoying trips to Chuck E. Cheese’s, going on walks without hearing gunshots and time with her father after not seeing him for three years.
Ahmad, who according to his lawsuit was imprisoned and tortured by opposing military factions in Syria, came to Wisconsin in 2014 and received asylum status two years later. After Trump issued a January executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Syria, lawyers from two law firms - Pines Bach in Madison and Holwell Shuster and Goldberg in New York - suggested that Ahmad file a lawsuit alleging the ban stalled his petitions to bring his wife and daughter to join him.
One of his attorneys, Vincent Levy, said that after US District Judge William Conley barred Trump from imposing the ban on the family, the federal government expedited the family’s visa interviews, leading to a cheerful reunion in a crowded terminal of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.
Spokeswomen for the US Department of Justice and US Customs and Immigration Services declined to comment on what prompted the action. Trump said the ban and its subsequent replacement, which remains largely blocked by courts, were meant to prevent foreign terrorists from entering the country. Iman said it prevented innocent victims from escaping dangerous conditions like those in Syria.
Ahmad, whose mother and several other relatives also live in Madison, said he’d been consumed by worry as conditions deteriorated in Aleppo.
“Every morning when I woke up, I had fears I’d get a phone call with bad news that I lost one of them, similar to the call I got when my son was killed,” he said.
The couple’s son died in 2015 at age 3 after their building was hit by artillery fire and he fell three stories trying to escape.
“I don’t like talking about him,” Iman said through tears. “It brings back too much.”
Iman had never traveled outside of Syria before embarking on the grueling, weeks-long journey last month that took her through Lebanon to Jordan and onto the US, which was all the more complicated traveling alone with an active 3-year-old.
As the couple spoke, their daughter happily crawled from one parent’s lap to the other’s, taking a break to play with Arabic counting blocks on the floor and playing a Syrian game with her mother that involves darting out of the way as Iman pretends to be a fly buzzing toward her.
Ahmad, who managed his father’s sporting goods business in Syria before it was destroyed in the civil war, worked as a chef at the now-closed Palmyra Mediterranean Grill in downtown Madison before becoming a delivery driver.
When asked about their worries now, Ahmad and Iman looked at each other and smiled.
“Everything is wiped out,” Iman said. “As long as I’m with Ahmad, I’m fine.”