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Our family is reunited, but the follow-to-join system is still broken

This is a guest post by the wife of Abdel Rahman Abdalla, who was a plaintiff in IRAP’s lawsuit Adam v. Pompeo. The views presented here are her own.

This month, my family was reunited after 15 years of separation. My husband, Abdel Rahman, came to the United States as a refugee in 2016. When he was forced to leave our native Sudan, the children were too young to make the difficult and dangerous journey and our family was separated. As soon as he arrived in the United States, he filed petitions for our family to be reunited through the follow-to-join process. But after waiting 5 years, our petitions remained pending, and we were still unable to be reunited in the United States. 

Last October, IRAP helped my family file a lawsuit challenging the government’s many years-long delay in deciding our petition to follow-to-join my husband. Even with this assistance, it was almost a year before we were finally able to be reunited.

During that time, my husband published an op-ed in the Washington Post for Father’s Day and World Refugee Day. He wrote that he hoped this year would be the last year he had to spend Father’s Day alone. We are so joyful that his wish has come true, and we are reunited at last. 

I am so grateful that Abdel Rahman will now be able to truly be a father to our children. Abdel Rahman came to the airport to pick us up when we arrived and greeted us with the mini-van he had purchased just for our family. He spent ten minutes making sure we were all buckled in and comfortable, checking over and over again to be sure that our family was safe.  

It had been so long since he had seen our children. When he left, they were so young; but now, they are teenagers! When he saw our children, he jokingly introduced himself to them, as if it was the first time they were meeting. In a way, after all that they missed with each other, it is as if it was. 

I am so relieved that the long separation is over. The past 15 years have been a very hard time for us. After Abdel Rahman left, I took the children to live with my parents in Kabkabiya, in the north of Darfur. But after three years, the wars made it too dangerous, and we had to flee again. We went to live in New Halfa, but it was very difficult. Sometimes we had nowhere to stay, and after the Atbara River flooded we lived in a tent. 

The final months before we were given permission to travel were especially difficult. We regularly had to travel to Khartoum to the U.S. Embassy for medical checks and other appointments. Travel to Khartoum was very hard for us because it was a long journey that took a full day on a bus. Sometimes we would only reach Khartoum at 10pm. Other times, the buses would just stop and we would have to walk for hours to finish our journey. 

The time that I was separated from my husband was very challenging, but I always remind myself to thank God. I know that God will do what he wants, and I can only try to protect my children. This is my aim: to protect my children and to thank God that our family is together again. 

My family and I may finally be reunited, but the follow-to-join system is still broken. It took a team of lawyers, almost a year of litigation, and an op-ed in a major national newspaper for my family’s follow-to-join petitions to be processed. We were lucky, but most refugees don’t have access to that kind of help. There are thousands of families who are separated just like we were, waiting indefinitely for the government to process their petitions. What are those families supposed to do? I hope President Biden will fix the follow-to-join process so that those families can experience the joy that we have at being reunited and the freedom to finally move forward in their lives.