New Americans Series
We are finishing a series on the five largest ethnic groups to be resettled to Sioux Falls in the last five years by the Center for New Americans. Please join us as we learn together about our new neighbors and their courageous stories.
New American Success Story: Jateen, Refugee from Iraq
I met Jateen in my high-level citizenship class several months ago. Already quite strong in his oral ability and knowledge of U.S. Civics and Geography, Jateen has benefitted from continued support and encouragement in his reading and writing in preparation for his United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) naturalization interview. During class, we practice typical questions that may be asked at the interview concerning applicants N-400 citizenship applications including “Where are you from? How long have you been a permanent legal resident? Do you work? Have you had any other jobs in the last five years?” While I had come to know some of Jateen’s story through these class discussions, I was very happy when he agreed to be interviewed in the New American Series in order to learn more.
Jateen grew up in northwestern Iraq in the city of Kirkuk. He is a member of the Turkmen (some spellings show Turkomen) minority group in Iraq. Jateen speaks Turkmen, Turkish, Arabic, Kurdish, and English and identifies himself as Muslim. According to the Cultural Backgrounder by the Cultural Orientation Resource Center on Iraqi Refugees:
The Turkomen are an ancient Turkic community in Iraq dating back to the caliphs. They are found mostly in Arbil and Diyala provinces, Kirkuk, and Baghdad…Turkomen speak a dialect of Turkish that is very close to Azeri, and they are one of the few recognized minorities in Iraq allowed to use their own language. Most Turkomen also speak either Arabic or Kurdish…Turkomen are almost all Sunni and Shi’i Muslims. They have generally identified themselves as Iraqis and have not been involved in antigovernment activities.[i]
Jateen’s father was in the military, but “got his name on Saddam’s list,” Jateen said, and needed to leave the country in 1991 for fear of his life. He settled in Yemen. Jateen grew up with his mother and one brother in Kirkuk where he eventually started working for his uncle as a mechanic. Working during the day and attending classes at night, life for Jateen changed in 2004 following the American occupation of Iraq. His uncle’s mechanic shop was two miles from a U.S. military base and the shop eventually received business from American soldiers fixing their cars. I asked if these were military vehicles, and Jateen reiterated that they were not, they were regular cars, but this was enough to get Jateen’s name “on a list” put out by Anti-American paramilitary forces in his region. “I helped American soldiers. I got my picture and name on a list. They tell me to stop or leave or they kill my family.” Anti-American Iraqi paramilitary forces also called Jateen at his home, threatening him and his family if he continued to do business with Americans. “I got a couple of phone calls…three or four. I thought it was a joke. I didn’t take it seriously. Then, I got a video…and it was too late to stop. I need to leave.”
Jateen left for Turkey in 2007 at seventeen years old. Because of his ethnic background, he felt comfortable living in Turkey and worked at a clothing store for two years. He applied for refugee status with a friend’s brother and was surprised at the speed in which the process took place. “It was only seven months!” Jateen believes it is because he was young and because he helped Americans that his paperwork was processed quickly. Some friends in Turkey discouraged Jateen from going to the United States, saying “America is not good,” but Jateen’s family said “Go.”
On July 20th, 2009 Jateen was resettled to Sioux Falls at the age of nineteen. He was alone with no family or friends, but was grateful for the services and caseworkers at Lutheran Social Services. “The first month was very hard. The language was hard,” Jateen remembers. After six months of English classes, Jateen entered Job Corps in Utah and studied auto mechanics and welding. As a student, Jateen was voted President of his dorm and held this position for a year and a half. He graduated from the program in the summer of 2011 and returned to Sioux Falls where he obtained work in a packaging company. Since being hired, Jateen’s abilities and leadership skills have helped him receive promotions to become a machine operator and team leader. He has retained the same employer since 2011.
At the time of this writing, Jateen is continuing to attend citizenship classes as he prepares for his citizenship interview in October 2014. I asked Jateen, “Why do you want to be an American citizen?” His response was: “I want freedom and to try and visit my family.” With continued fighting happening in Iraq and the threat of IS (Islamic State) growing, Jateen’s citizenship would allow him to apply to bring family to the U.S. as green card holders. Jateen has little hope for a stable government to develop Iraq any time soon with ongoing sectarian division and now foreign military fighters in Iraq. “It is over 10 years and nothing has changed. Iraq is not safe. People traveling to Diyala, Baghdad or Fallujah still carry two IDs: one with Shia name and one with Sunni name.”
All of us at LSS wish to say “Good luck!” to Jateen with his upcoming citizenship interview and “Thank you” for his bravery in sharing his story with us.
[i] Cultural Orientation Resource Center, Center for Applied Linguistics. “Refugees from Iraq: Their History, Cultures, and Background Experiences” COR Center Enhanced Refugee Backgrounder No. 1. October 2008