By Reem Aliessa
The escalation of violence in Syria has led to massive refugee populations in bordering nations and abroad. Obtaining refugee status and receiving benefits has proven to be difficult for many Syrians, especially for urban refugees.
Living through war and being displaced is perhaps the most traumatizing experience for an individual. So imagine what young, innocent, and helpless Syrian children experience day by day. They have been deprived of their playful childhood and education, to witness bloodshed and the death of their fellow Syrians.
However, among these children are American children of Syrian descent, some of them my relatives, who are unable to receive refugee status. They were born in America, but their parents never obtained a legal residency or citizenship and eventually returned to Syria. After one year of living in perilous conditions in Syria, some of my family members decided to return to America in hope that their children will be able to attend school and reintegrate into civil society. Since the American Embassy in Damascus was closed, my relatives helplessly made their way to the embassy in Ankara, Turkey in hopes of obtaining a visa to grant their children a safe return to America. Despite the fact that my cousins are American citizens and were too young to return to America alone, their parents were denied a visa twice. However, what was even more outrageous was that we knew several Syrians whom were granted visas to the US within the same time frame.
After witnessing this, the enigmatic process of issuing visas has proven to be unfair on various levels. I am sure the State Department abides by its guidelines for visa granting and regulations, but the fact that American children, whose lives are at risk because of war, are unable return to the United States with their parents is distressing.
After the second visa denial my relatives felt hopeless, but I, on the hand was passionate about this issue and sought the opportunity to raise awareness about it through writing a policy for the City College Roosevelt Institute Chapter. At first, I was discouraged because my target population was small. However, with the encouragement and support of members of the CCNY Roosevelt Chapter, I realized that this is a critical issue that needs to be addressed and that a policy proposal for the Roosevelt Institute was the root of the change I was seeking.
My family was ecstatic when I informed them that I was addressing their issue through writing a policy that might be published and distributed nationwide through the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network. Now that my policy has been selected for publication they hope that it can influence policy makers to ease visa regulations and guidelines for parents of American children in war-torn or conflict areas.
Two of my young American cousins have separated from their parents, leaving them behind in Syria, in order to live with their siblings in New York. However, every day is a struggle for them because they have the fear that one morning they will wake up as orphans.
It is vital for the State Department to ease visa regulations for parents or guardians of American children. We all believe in ‘no child left behind’ so it is time to address the displaced American children abroad that are being left behind.