Jody Mashek directs the Immigration Legal Services component of AFSC’s Immigrants Voice Program in Des Moines.
In one particular case, this man from Eritrea had not seen his wife and children in nine years. And he was such a ‘Dad’ figure, you could tell how much it hurt him not to be around his family. He cried in my office a couple times – here was this man in his 50s.
We were at the airport when his family arrived. We saw them come down the escalator. It was really one of the most touching moments I’ve ever seen in my life. I don’t think I can imagine what that’s like, even if I try to place myself in somebody’s shoes like that, where you haven’t seen somebody for such a long time. Even though I’m standing right next to him, and seeing this take place in front of me, I can’t imagine what that must feel like.
And it’s not just that they didn’t see each other for nine years. It’s the worry of, ‘Are they safe? Are my family members safe? Is something going to happen to them today?’ The fear and stress that goes away when you finally reach that point when somebody is reconnected, something that you didn’t think was going to be possible. Sometimes it’s not possible. There are a lot of headaches; it’s not always smooth sailing.
When I see this particular gentleman in the community – and we are a small community – his face breaks out in this huge smile. He’s so enthusiastic, and he’s always saying, ‘Thank you! Thank you!’ And it’s almost too much, because I just did my end, the immigration paperwork.
It’s such a nice feeling to know someone’s life is a little better, that they’re not suffering so much. Maybe there are some good things happening in the world. Because there are certainly a lot of people who can’t get reunited with their family members, or they’re still in that process, or it can’t happen at all for various reasons. And that’s really tough, because we do see a lot of that.
But I think it just gives hope to everyone when someone is able to be reunited with a family member, hope to other members of their ethnic community. Especially in the case of the Eritrean community I’m referring to, when the first wife and children showed up in Des Moines, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is actually going to happen.”
And one by one, spouses and children have been coming, and it’s really helped the community see we can thrive. We’re on the path toward something great. They’re beginning to enjoy their life more, and they see the possibilities.
And that makes me hopeful that they will have good lives and find a sense of peace, if possible, despite the trauma they’ve suffered before coming to the U.S. You just hope for their genuine peace and happiness. Just to have somebody say those words, how happy they are, or ‘This is the best day of my life’ when they’re reunited. You hope that’s true and that feeling continues.