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Somali refugee in Columbus hopes to be reunited with wife, kids after lawsuit settlement over Trump order

Afkab Hussein, a 32-year-old Somali refugee, has been waiting for his family to join him in Columbus since he was resettled here in 2015.

Afkab Hussein, a 32-year-old Somali refugee, has been waiting for his family to join him in Columbus since he was resettled here in 2015.

President Donald Trump’s bans targeting travel from Muslim-majority countries had made that impossible, but a settlement in a federal lawsuit against the bans says the cases of the plaintiff’s family members, such as Hussein’s, must now be expedited.

Though Afkab Hussein has never lost hope of being reunited with his wife and young son, the settlement last week of a class-action lawsuit that he joined as a last resort gives him renewed hope.

The settlement of the case, Jewish Family Services v. Trump, states that the federal government must expedite the processing of more than 300 refugees, Hussein’s family included, who were part of the class-action suit.
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“It’s a big step,” Hussein, 32, of the North Side, said in Somali, speaking through a translator. “I am very happy with the lawsuit and the result, and I’m hoping that will reunite me and my family.”

Hussein, originally from Somalia, applied for his wife, Rhodo, and their then-newborn son, Abdullahi, to join him in the country after he was resettled as a refugee in 2015.

>> Read more: Ginther joins other mayors in supporting refugee resettlement in Columbus

They were all set to join him when Trump issued his first travel ban in the form of an executive order in January 2017.

A subsequent executive order, issued in October 2017 and the impetus of the lawsuit, cited security concerns with the refugee resettlement program as reasoning for the ban, and called for federal agencies to create new screening and vetting standards for people entering the country.

The policy halted Hussein’s wife’s case, causing elements of the vetting, such as the medical check, to expire, forcing her to start over again.

“Afkab should have never had to sue the federal government just to be reunited with his wife and then-infant son, who had already been approved for resettlement,” the Rev. John L. McCullough, president and CEO of Church World Service, said in a statement. “And yet, he is unfortunately not alone — thousands of families’ lives have been torn apart by President Trump’s racist and xenophobic policies that continue today.”

The government needs to be held to the terms of the settlement, said Church World Service, which is affiliated with Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS), a Columbus refugee resettlement agency.

“It is now incumbent on Congress, the media and the public to hold the administration accountable to processing Rhodo and Abdullahi’s case as soon as possible,” the agency said in the statement.

Angie Plummer, executive director of CRIS, helped Hussein join the lawsuit and is optimistic about its ability to get his family to join him here.

>> Read more: Trump’s refugee limits worry families separated from loved ones

“There’s going to be a light on this case because it’s part of the settlement, so it has less chance of falling off somebody’s radar,” she said. “What it is is a promise that the government will prioritize them.”

However, Plummer still has concerns about the bottleneck of refugees waiting to be processed, causing even more delays.

“If vetting doesn’t move forward, it will create further problems with the system,” she said.

The good news, she said, is that the more than 300 families will not count toward the 18,000 refugees (a historically low figure) that Trump said could be resettled in the United States during this fiscal year. They will be counted in fiscal year 2018, when the annual refugee cap was not reached.

Despite being a win for the families involved in the class-action suit, settled in a federal court in Seattle, there are still thousands more waiting to be reunited with their family members, advocates say.

“Millions of refugees around the world continue to experience unimaginable danger at a time when the United States is admitting the fewest number of refugees in history,” Rabbi Will Berkovitz, chief executive officer of Jewish Family Service of Seattle, said in a statement. “We look forward to a time when, once again, our country can reliably represent hope for refugees, and the Statue of Liberty’s flame is not diminished.”

Throughout the time he’s been separated from his family, Hussein has not lost hope.

“That’s what keeps me going,” he said.

>> Read more: High schooler’s monthly newsletter helps link immigrants to Columbus with stories in their languages

Before traveling in April to Kenya, where his wife and son are living in an apartment, Hussein hadn’t seen Rhodo in almost three years and had never met his young son. Both he and his wife spent years in a refugee camp in Kenya; he was there 25 years.

“I was so happy, I was so excited,” he said of seeing Addullahi, who is now 4. “He’s very active, he’s very talkative and he calls me now.”

Hussein’s wife also had the couple’s second son, Zain, a month ago.

Hussein, a long-haul trucker, tries to talk to Abdullahi every day and said the little boy asks his father to come back and see him again.

“I told him you will come join me, hopefully,” Hussein said.

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