On a recent afternoon, Abdulla Omer sat with his two giggling brothers in their new Chicago Ridge living room.
Abdulla, 13, was quiet and hid behind his baseball hat. He had spent the past couple of months without his mother and siblings as he underwent chemotherapy after doctors discovered he had Burkitt leukemia.
Mohsin Omer, the boy’s father, had balanced having the family in the Chicago area and in Yemen until his son’s diagnosis prompted them to apply in January for an expedited humanitarian parole so his wife could join them in the Chicago area.
Omer’s wife, Sanaa Saleh Abdellah Mohammad, and their children lived in Yemen while Omer, a U.S. citizen, worked and lived in the U.S. Their oldest son, Abdulla, moved to Chicago Ridge with his father in February 2020 — just before the coronavirus pandemic hit — to attend American schools.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services didn’t expedite the application that would have allowed Saleh Abdellah Mohammad to temporarily enter the United States due to an emergency situation.
The family had to wait the typical 90 to 120 days for a decision. By late April, the family got word that her application had been approved. Mohsin Omer flew to Spain, then to Egypt before reaching Yemen to help his wife get the visa.
“I cried at the embassy,” said Omer, recalling the trip and how he had taken numerous documents. He was surprised that the family was able to get the visa the same day. By May, the family was reunited with Abdulla and together in the United States.
For nearly five years, the family has had a pending “petition for alien relative,” an application through USCIS that would allow his wife to become a permanent U.S. resident through marriage. Omer said he continues to work with an attorney on the application, and he thinks it might be resolved within a couple of months.
The family has spent the past couple of weeks settling into their own apartment in Chicago Ridge, not far from where Omer’s parents live.
In addition to his wife, his 11-year-old daughter, Wafa, 10-year-old son, Mohamed, and 7-year-old son, Ali, also came to the U.S.
Omer used to travel for four or five months to his native Yemen to visit his wife and children. The ongoing conflict in Yemen stemming from a civil war in 2014 had made it more difficult for Omer to travel to his native country. Flights to Yemen are now more limited and traveling there now takes days, he said.
Abdulla’s last chemotherapy session happened in late April, but he still has monthly hospital visits, Omer said. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the family tries to limit their time outside of the home. Omer said he tries to take the children to the park every couple of days so Abdulla can work on his mobility.
“He’s doing great,” Omer said. “When he stayed five months in the hospital, he had no movements. That’s the only issue. When he walks, he can’t run.”
His mother, Saleh Abdellah Mohammad, through translation from Omer, said she barely slept while her son was in the hospital. She now feels relieved that he’s doing better and that her son isn’t far away from her anymore. She misses her life in Yemen as she adjusts to the U.S.
Omer left his job as a truck driver, and he started working at a gas station to spend more time with his family.
An organization reached out to the family, and they might get to travel together sometime next year though they are trying to decide where they would go. Omer would like to take the family to Spain, while Abdulla wants to see Paris and Saleh Abdellah Mohammad wants to travel to Turkey.
“Now I’m relieved,” Omer said sitting next to his sons. “It’s a blessing when you have your kids and wife next to you.”
Elvia Malagon’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.