For 13 years, Musie dreamed of the day he would be permanently reunited with his wife and children. Three weeks ago, with the help of the International House Legal Clinic, that dream finally came true.
Musie left Eritrea in 2001 to escape civil unrest and to pave a way to a new life for the wife and very young children he had to leave behind. He made his way to the United States as a political refugee and was granted asylum. Ultimately, Musie arrived in Charlotte where he had family. He came here because he knew he would find, in his words, “freedom in the United States”.
As arduous and stressful as was the journey to Charlotte, Musie’s long and tangled journey through petitions, paperwork, and bureaucratic channels to get his wife and children to Charlotte was just beginning. He worked two jobs – often 16-17 hours a day – to pay for his own modest living arrangements in Charlotte, and to save money to send back to his wife Abrehet and his children. His son Yonas and daughter Elsa were ages 5 and 3 when he left.
Eventually, Albrehet needed medical care unavailable in Eritrea and was allowed to travel to Kenya for the procedure. The children, Yonas and Elsa, had to be left in Eritrea with friends and family. Once she was out, Albrehet and Musie decided it would be better to have the children join her in Kenya and wait in Nairobi for their approval to join Musie in the U.S.
For two more years, Albrehet lived without her husband or children. Finally they found a way to get the children out of Eritria where they were joyously reunited with their mom in Kenya. They were now one step closer to being reunited as a family in America.
As the years passed, Musie continued to work two jobs, sent money home, learned English, and eventually applied for U.S. citizenship. He was also able to travel to Kenya to see his family for brief visits in 2009 and 2012 – having gone 8 years without seeing his wife or children. In 2010, Musie and Albrehet had a third child, Ocean, born in Kenya.
Still alone in the U.S., Musie achieved his U.S. citizenship in May 2012 and shortly thereafter found himself at International House’s Legal Clinic seeking assistance in untangling the legal and paperwork morass that had his family’s dream to emigrate to the U.S. completely stalled. Albrehet had been approved to rejoin her husband in Charlotte. But the two older children’s files seemed hopelessly lost.
At this point, Jelena Giric-Held, Director of the International House Legal Clinic, got involved. As she explains, “Musie had his first consultation with us in 2012. He came to seek help with bringing his family here from Kenya. He had filed refugee petitions seven years earlier in February 2005, and the documents were misplaced and forgotten by government agencies. Working with North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan, we were eventually able to locate the petitions for the older children, one in Texas and one in Nairobi, and proceed with their cases.”
This was a particularly difficult situation because each of the four people seeking to enter the US was at a different stage of processing.
With the help of Senator Hagan’s immigration liaison, Jelena tracked down each of the cases and kept things moving forward. The biggest challenge was the timing. All four had to be approved for travel at about the same time so that Albrehet could travel to the U.S. with her three children.
During this long final stage of the process, Musie would come to visit the Legal Clinic almost every Friday. After a decade of struggling, his mood would depend on the news from that week. “Sometimes he was frustrated,” says Jelena. “Sometimes he was happy. Sometimes he would cry and you could tell how incredibly tired he was.”
Then, last month, Jelena was working in her office when someone told her that Musie was in the waiting area. Jelena walked out of her office expecting to discuss the latest updates with Musie. But this time, instead of having a tired, sad expression, Musie was grinning from ear to ear.
“I will never forget the look on Musie’s face when I opened the door”, Jelena explained. “The first thing I saw was Musie’s big smile and obvious excitement. Then I glanced over and saw Abrehet … and Yonas … and Elsa … and Ocean! I knew all of them all already because I have seen their photographs so many times! It was a very emotional moment. We all hugged and were teary eyed. After all, we have known each other for a couple of years already and had been in touch on almost a weekly basis. We were old friends!”
Musie and his family are living together now for the first time in 13 years – and their smiles and words confirm that all the struggle and sacrifice was worth the effort. Musie never considered giving up. The two children he had to leave behind are now 18 and 16. And he has a 4 year old daughter not even born when the saga began. “I was very sure that the family would come. I never gave up hope”.
His perseverance was rewarded and Jelena is confident that Charlotte will be a better place because of Musie’s work. “He has worked two jobs ever since he came to us. He is respected at his work. His family means everything to him. He is a devoted husband and father and a great role model for his children. This family will accomplish a lot. The older children are eager to complete high school and enroll at CPCC as a prelude to the University. Coming to the U.S. will enable them to move forward as a family, with education and stability, so that they can be active members of our community.”
A long road still lies ahead of the family – but at least they can travel that road together now. The children are excited to call Charlotte home. “Everyone is very helpful and willing to help us”, says Yonas.
There is still work to be done, and International House will continue to assist Musie and family. The Legal Clinic will work with the family to help them adjust their status to Permanent Residents and eventually, help them become U.S. citizens, except for Ocean, who, as the daughter of a U.S. citizen, became a citizen upon arrival
Thirteen years after he left behind a young wife, two small children, and everything he knew, Musie’s eyes shine with the happiness and hope of having his family all under one-roof, prepared to tackle all future challenges – together again.