In the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya, there’s a baby waiting to be vetted by the U.S. government. He’s just over a year old. And he’s the reason that his family is still living in limbo, instead of in Seattle.
To understand this story, we have to go back to March 2015.
In the Dadaab refugee camp, the Rashid family learned they were approved to immigrate to the U.S.
“I was very happy, very happy. There was a lot of celebration and jubilation in my family,” Mohamed Rashid said.
Rashid, his wife and two young daughters, originally from Somalia, were approved to move to Seattle. His brother and brother-in-law were approved to move as well.
After more than two decades in Dadaab, and more than four years in the resettlement process, they were finally getting a new and hopefully better life.
And then something happened that set the brothers on very different paths: Rashid’s wife became pregnant.
In September 2015, two of the brothers boarded the plane to Seattle, but Rashid and his family had to stay behind in the camp. They were told their case had been delayed because of their unborn child.
“We were approved but they want now to approve the child,” Rashid said.
The baby was born in November 2015. Rashid and his family are still waiting for their baby to be approved.
“Unless Department of Homeland Security see the baby, the baby cannot travel,” he said.
Some other countries don’t require babies to be vetted. The baby is added to the family’s file when they provide a birth certificate and a photo of the child.
But that’s not how it works in the U.S.
American officials say the law requires all members of any family, including babies, to be seen in person by a Homeland Security officer.
They say newborn babies are no exception, in part to prevent fraud and child trafficking.
A pregnancy is enough to delay a family’s case. Dadaab is dangerous and visits from Homeland Security officers are few and far between. And a situation like Rashid’s is not uncommon.
But it’s still frustrating waiting for a foreign government to lay eyes on your child, to confirm they are in fact an infant and that they are your infant.
Rashid checks the status of their resettlement case every two days. But it’s still on hold.
And after the Trump administration’s second travel ban, that’s not likely to change soon. The new ban bars citizens from six majority-Muslim nations from entering the U.S. But it also temporarily puts a stop to the nation’s refugee program, while the vetting process is assessed and possibly strengthened.
President Trump said this is a necessary step in ensuring national security.
But it feels like yet another kick to the gut for Mohamed Rashid as he sits in his home in Dadaab. Rashid’s is one of the nicer houses in the camp. It’s a proper structure instead of a tent, and even though his fence – like all the others – is made from braided twigs, he has a real gate with a sliding bolt.
He beams at his son as he clings to his leg. Rashid’s pride is evident as he scoops up the boy.
He’s worth the delay in his case, Rashid says. But he remains determined to take his family to Seattle.
“Seattle is a good city. It’s where I like to go,” Rashid said. “I was told the weather is not very harsh. Though I was told it has a lot of rain.”
It seems the old stereotypes dog Seattle even half way across the world. But the idea of a little rain doesn’t bother Rashid — he wants to see his brothers and bring his children to a place where they’ll have a brighter future.
“Even my children are asking me, ‘Where is our uncle? Where has he gone? Will he come tomorrow?’" Rashid said. "I told them your uncle has gone very far, but you will join him in the future if God says.”
On Rashid's wife side, the family is also divided — with one brother in Seattle but everyone else stuck in the camp.
Tanad Sirat, 23, is the brother in Seattle. When he first came to the U.S., he thought his sister and his brothers, including an identical twin, were right behind him. A year and a half later, he’s still alone.
“Sometimes I’m crying because I’m living alone here. Sometimes I’m saying I don’t need to be here, I like to go back to Africa. But I can’t go back to Africa.”
Sirat knows Rashid's brother, but they don't live very nearby, and it's still not the same as having your immediate family with you.
He feels he needs to stay in Seattle to help support his family in the camp.
But that’s a lot of pressure and he’s had to put his education and personal life on hold.
He wants his family to be together. But it’s unlikely that the baby will be seen before the Trump administration’s travel ban goes into effect.
And once the ban starts, no one knows how long the family’s case could be on hold.
“I don’t like that rule,” Sirat said, speaking of the travel ban.
While the family waits to find out whether or not they’ll be allowed into the U.S., the baby that caused their delay continues to grow up fast.
The family hopes that eventually, his childhood memories will be made in Seattle.