Stories of Four Immigrants

Jan 9, 2018

Adina Matasaru

Hands down, immigration was one of the biggest issues in our country in 2017, an issue that played out in Oregon as much as anywhere else. But there are many kinds of immigrants.

(Choir sings)

A Muslim immigrant from Syria, you wouldn't expect to find Hussain at a Eugene Unitarian Church service. But the church has adopted him. Hussain and his family left Syria after civil war broke out:

"They are killing the people on the street and they cutting the head and the Syrian army was throwing the bomb. So I was afraid for my kids."

They went to the United Arab Emirates where he found work but his firm relocated hm to the U.S. in 2015.  His family was supposed to follow.

Because he has gotten hate mail, we are not using Hussain's last name.  In 2016 he was laid off and made his way to Eugene, where he found work.  There were problems getting his wife and two kids out of the Middle East, and then he heard candidate Donald Trump promise a ban on Muslims entering the country:

"I was feeling very sad. I don't know what to do."

But Eugene residents responded to Hussain, maybe in part to defy Washington."

"They take me to Eugene rally so I speak in front of the people about my case and I get more than a hundred volunteers to help me in this case."

His family joined him last spring.  Having lost his work visa, Hussain applied for asylum and got it--one of only 25-thousand cases granted nationwide last year. Asylum is granted when a judge in the U.S. finds the applicant to have been persecuted in their home country.

For decades, Mexicans have been emigrating to Oregon primarily for economic reasons. But since its war on drugs started in 2006. 200-thousand people have been murdered or are missing in Mexico. Last year was a record for homicides, and grusome  stories dominate Spanish language newscasts:

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Nohamy Hernandez came to Oregon last year not through a grant of asylum, but on an investor's visa--she owns a clothing design company. She came because of the violence in her home city of Queretaro:

"Es como pan caliente, decimos...."

Two girls at her daughter's school had been kidnapped.  Then Hernandez's daughter's best friend was kidnapped.  A month later, her body was found.  She had been raped and tortured.  That was enough to make her family leave:

"Nosotros decidimos salir..."

She says drug cartels looking for new kinds of business, focus on high schools to abduct and force girls into prostitution.  Hernandez's is far from and isolated case:

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It's easy to pick out Hernan Chavez in Willamette University's dining hall.  He's tall with a ready smile. But he's seen a lot. He says his hometown in Michoacan was invaded by cartel members who did door-to-door shakedowns:

"Some people got into my house at night and they were trying to knock out our door and it thankfully was a metal door so the door didn't fall down."

He witnessed murders on his way to school and burning buses, emblematic of the fight between the military and cartels:

"The police officers in our town were found to be associated with the drug cartels. And that's when my family decided that it was critical for us to move."

Chavez is a biochemistry major and a Gates scholar and a strong believer that education reform will eventually help Mexico recover:

"There's a lot of children in Mexico that deserve a future.  And I want them to have that future. So that's one of my goals in life to go back to Mexico and help these children."

Hernan Chavez is a lawful permanent resident. His father had lived in the U.S. during the Reagan amnesty.

Adina Matsaru is a refugee:

"I was born in Romania, in the middle part of Romania called Transylvania. It is where Dracula is rumored to have come from. We're not vampires. And my family is of Jewish origin."

About ten percent of Oregon immigrants are from Eastern Europe, where many were subjected to political and religious persecution:

"Political dissidence as not allowed. My father, in fact my entire extended family, they did not get the memo that they were supposed to line up with the political party. My dad was tortured."

A refugee must meet the same standards as an asylee, but refugee status is conferred by the U.N. when the applicant is still outside the country.  Where to go when they get to the U.S.?  For her family Portland, where for a while she was homeless but is now a successful lawyer:

"Typically there is one person you know from the old country that settled in in a particular area and everyone else who comes, you look for your community."

The family landed at Kennedy Airport in New York in 1992. The plane was late, the night was cold and snowy and their ride wasn't there. In broken English they asked a porter for help.:

"And he looked at us and he said,  "First time in America? and we all sort of shook our heads and said yes and he extended his arms out and was unbelievably gracious, gave us a big bear hug and said, "Welcome to America."

A cap on refugee admissions is set by the President and this year that cap is lower than when Matasaru got here and, at 45-thousand, the lowest since 1980.

Funding for KLCC's Borders, Migration, and Belonging series is provided by the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics at the University of Oregon.