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St. Cloud man sues USCIS after 7 years of waiting for family

Rabi Mohamed has waited for his family for seven years now, stuck within a process that should have taken months.

MINNEAPOLIS — A St. Cloud man is suing the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services after waiting on his family for seven years. 

He and his lawyers allege that his family reunification petition was subject to needless scrutiny and unusually long wait times, partially due to neglect.

Rabi Mohamed, a long-haul truck driver who lives in St. Cloud, came to the U.S. as a refugee in 2015. He received that status as his parents had filed for him when he was younger, having grown up in a refugee camp in Ethiopia after his family fled Somalia from war and persecution.

It was at that refugee camp, he met his wife, Sahra Abdulahi. There, Mohamed and Abdulahi married and had three children, Hudayfi, Hamza and Kalid. 

Then in 2015, when Mohamed's application to come to the United States as a refugee was approved, he moved to the U.S. by himself, as he understood that adding his wife and children to the refugee case would significantly delay processing. 

He didn't think he would leave them for years.

For Eid Al-Adha celebrations, it was yet another major holiday Mohamed spent without his family. This year, he received the gift of photos of his wife and three boys. 

"It's for Eid," Mohamed said, as he brought up the photos of his boys on his phone. The photos showed them all dressed up. 

"To be honest with you, I've had some sadness over the years, because my family was not here, my wife was not here," Mohamed said through, Osman Abdulle, a Somali interpreter. "My kids were not here, I did not have any extended family members here, so I've had a lot of sadness over the years."

The distance is not for a lack of trying. In 2016, a year after he arrived to the U.S., Mohamed filed for his family to be reunited with him. Family reunification is a unique right that people with refugee status have. It allows refugees to bring along their family members to the U.S.

That process, according to Alexandra Zaretsky with the International Refugee Assistance Project says, should have taken several months, at most.

"Rabi's case had been pending almost seven years just at this first step which is about essentially proving that and verifying that he has a relationship with his wife and kids," Zaretsky said. "And that relationship existed at the time he was admitted as a refugee. Even that first step used to be something that would happen in an average of eight months. But now it's ballooned for everyone, in 2022 it was around 28 months."

Still, she said, seven years is beyond the threshold of reasonability.

Both Mohamed and Zaretsky say they have a hunch, as to why it's taken so long.

"To be honest with you, I do think that the former President had something to do with that," Mohamed said. "He prohibited people from my country from coming to this country for a period of time."

Executive Order 13769, or the so-called "Muslim Ban" was signed by then-President Donald Trump in 2017. 

Under the Biden administration, the effects of that ban still linger.

"There's delays across the board for everyone but certainly families from Somalia and other Muslim majority countries seem to be seeing the largest delays," Zaretsky added.

In addition, Zaretsky said Mohamed's case was subject to unusual scrutiny. The agency had requested DNA evidence to prove his relationships with his sons. According to USCIS' own rules, DNA evidence is something that could be voluntarily submitted, in supplement to an official birth certificate. USCIS cannot require DNA evidence.

"He submitted everything that by USCIS' regulations that were required to approve his application," Zaretsky said. "It should have been administrative, easy, and yet they sat on it, and asked him a lot of detailed questions about the marriage certificate, birth certificate. [They] came back and asked for DNA evidence when it was not required. None of that should have happened."

Another wrinkle in the case, was that Mohamed never received any communication from USCIS saying that it was looking for DNA evidence in the first place.

The team only found out that his case had been temporarily closed, due to lack of evidence, through a Freedom of Information Act request.

"At a certain point, (the case) got stuck in a pile, and no one was paying any attention to it and these cases have been transferred around the country, to different processing centers multiple times," Zaretsky said. "Each time that happens, the physical file has to be sent somewhere else, and it's just stuck in another pile. And so, I think partly neglect and people not paying attention to it, and maybe some of these changes that came in with the Trump administration, applying extra scrutiny to Somalis."

Mohamed, in the last seven years has only been able to visit his family once.

His youngest Kalid is four years old now. Kalid was born after that last visit, and Mohamed has yet to hold him.

Now that Kalid is older, Mohamed said he's asking questions whenever they connect over the phone.

"'Dad, when are you coming back, when are you going to see us?' And I don't have an answer for them and it's really a shame," Mohamed said. "And now [we] want to tell him that this is what's going on. I don't know if he can understand that, I just feel sad when he asks me those questions."

Since our interview with Mohamed, Mohamed submitted DNA evidence even though it still wasn't required. Through that, the first hurdle of his application has been approved, but it could still be years before his wife and kids can physically come to the U.S. This is because of of interviews, processing, and evidence-providing that needs to happen on both ends, here in the U.S. and also in Ethiopia.

In terms of what the lawsuit is looking for, the suit is called a mandamus suit, which is simply asking the courts to help speed the process along, not necessarily asking for an approval on his case. 

The suit will continue to move its way through the court system to ensure USCIS doesn't drop the ball on continuing the processing. Other than that, the suit asks for compensation of Mohamed's attorney fees.

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