Saif Ali quit his job in Baghdad and sold his home and car after his family received their visas to resettle in the United States last month. They were due to fly on Monday.
The 35-year-old had applied for resettlement with his wife and three children in 2013 under the special immigrant visa program — for Iraqis who risked their lives working on behalf of the American troops or the U.S. government in Iraq.
But Ali was one of countless people around the world whose lives were thrown into uncertainty this weekend by President Trump’s executive order banning refugees, migrants and others from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.
Just two days before their scheduled departure, Ali received a phone call to tell him that because of Trump’s new immigration rules, their application had been suspended.
“This is a tragedy,” he said. “It’s like someone’s stabbed me in the heart with a dagger.”
Ali had been employed as an IT administrator with a company working on projects for the U.S. Agency for International Development between 2010 and 2013. In the years following the U.S. invasion in 2003, Iraqis who worked with Americans faced death threats, kidnappings and assassinations.
“We were considered traitors,” he said. His recommendation letter from his employer said Ali had continued his “dedicated work” despite “sacrifice of his personal safety.”
It took three years of vetting before the family received their visas.
“I was so happy, we had our minds set on our new lives in America,” he said. “I imagined I could live a peaceful life, I could further my ambitions there, my kids would live in peace.”
His brother, who lives in Arizona, had rented a property for the family to live in. Ali paid $8,000 up front for rent and a deposit, money he cannot get back. His brother had also spent $3,500 on furniture so the house would be ready for Ali’s family when they arrived.
Now Ali has no source of income or anywhere to live. He is staying with friends in Baghdad and is uncertain about his family’s future. The International Organization for Migration, which was arranging his travel to the United States, gave him no further details, he said. He received an email from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Sunday that said his application would be suspended for 90 days, but his visa’s validity expires in that period.
“I’m so confused,” he said. “I don’t know what to do.”
He said that because the United States played a role in destabilizing Iraq, it bears a responsibility to help Iraqis.
“We are being killed by ISIS,” he said. “We have lived through so many tragedies. We can’t go back; you did what you did, but help us.”
Loveday Morris reported from Irbil, Iraq, and Mustafa Salim contributed from Baghdad.