"My illness is getting worse. All the time, I'm concerned, thinking about my future. I even stopped going to ESL classes because I keep thinking about all the problems. I have five kids. I can't buy clothes. I imagined a good future for them. In Baghdad, I can find some friends or relatives to help me, but here I have no one. All the things they told me, I don't see it." He feels lost and betrayed.
"Because of what happened in Iraq, we're looking for responsibility from the American people. We left everything behind us. We just came with our clothes."
Margaret arrived in mid-February, a widow with six children. Her husband was killed in Iraq for owning a liquor store. Her family has been scattered, one son escaped to Greece then to New Zealand, one daughter remains in Turkey. They had hoped for a placement to New Zealand to be reunited with the son, but no delegation came through.
She arrived in mid-February with four daughters, two of them diabetic—her oldest, 21, is blind. While in Iraq, the daughter developed headaches and started bleeding from her eyes. The war made it impossible to seek medical care.
Since coming to Dallas, she has had one doctor's consultation and no follow-up treatment. Her Medicaid hasn't come through. Her food stamps are late. Meanwhile, her second daughter, 20, is going blind.
"I can't focus. I can't concentrate. I can't read at all," her daughter says. Time is running out. "What's the solution? What should I do?" she cries. "It's the biggest mistake I made, to come over here. What is my fate?"
For the refugees already here, the only solution they can see, like so many of their poor American counterparts, lies in the well-endowed arms of the U.S. military.
Nasreen* was a translator at the U.S Embassy in Baghdad. She recently resettled with her family in the Detroit area. Unable to find work there, she moved to Dallas for a part-time caseworker job. It's not enough to sustain her, and so she dreams of finding her way back to a government job, ideally on a military base. "The benefits are good," she said.
Hasim* worked as a military translator for 36 months, risking his life on missions and helping with military intelligence. He arrived in Dallas in September and was jobless for months. He finally found employment through friends at Tyson foods, where he acts as an interpreter and packer, making $9 an hour.
But he's frustrated and unsettled. His only way out, he says, is to go back to Iraq to the danger he left, but this time as a U.S. hire working for a military contractor. He's willing to take the risk because U.S. hires make up to five times more than what he made as an Iraqi national.
Meanwhile, his roommates have left, unable to find work in Dallas. They've packed up and moved off to Amarillo to work at a meat processor. Another family is leaving this week for the same destination, and several families have left for cheaper rents in Arlington and Fort Worth.
Mohammed arrived in Texas in January with folders full of glowing recommendations from U.S. companies and an Army officer attesting to his dedication and work ethic in Iraq. He expected golden treatment, considering his excellent language skills and the sacrifices he made working for the U.S.
"I did a great job. I worked five years in Iraq. I put my life in danger. My brother got kidnapped because of it. I couldn't see my family," he said. He imagined coming to America, quickly landing a job at a big telecom company, like the one he worked for in Iraq, and then traveling the world, climbing towers in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan or wherever they needed him.
Instead, he's in the same predicament as every other refugee, facing a low-wage job at best, with only a temporary work permit. If he had a green card, he's sure his old telecom company would hire him, but to get the card automatically, he needed to have come in on the Special Immigrant Visa program specifically for U.S. military hires, and have a recommendation from a general.
"I have a colonel," he said. He hadn't even known about the SIV program when he applied for a refugee visa.
So begins another long wait in the endless circle of waiting for Mohammed and other Iraq refugees who realize that a work permit can only go so far and maybe the answer to their years of paperless, homeless dislocation lies in the American green card. The challenge is whether they can survive the reality of the unemployed and underemployed until that card arrives, at which point, many said they're out of here.
Bilal was trained as a pharmacist but works at Wal-Mart. He considers himself fortunate to have a job, but as soon as he receives his green card, he's moving to Jordan. It's bitterly ironic for Bilal that as an Iraqi he needs to come to the United States before he can be legally welcomed in Jordan, Syria and most nations in the world: It's nearly impossible to get a visa holding an Iraqi passport.
Arshad doesn't think he can hold out for a year. At a recent conference on Iraqi refugees in Washington, Arshad cornered the Syrian ambassador who was in attendance.
"I told him "Help me. Help me. I'm an Iraq artist, I'm well known, and I need to get out of here. I need a Syrian visa." He makes a motion of someone stamping a passport. " I want this stamp," he says. The ambassador gave Arshad his business card and said to write to him.
Eman, his wife, doesn't want to give up. She's dreaming of driving lessons and Mel Gibson, her favorite American actor. She says she's less depressed when she works, but the hours at her minimum-wage factory job are intermittent.
"I don't want to be a loser. I want my American experience to mean something." Of her friends, she is the first woman to be working here.
Their children seem oblivious to the problems. They both like school, have many friends among the refugee community, play in each others’ apartments and ride bicycles in the parking lot of the housing complex. Homework is a challenge but their English is improving.
Mustafa, 6, is practicing for a musical at school. And just the other day, Ranya 9, who likes to wear Hannah Montana T-shirts, came home from school eager to impress her father with a new word.
"Perro," she said, struggling with the pronunciation. "What is that?" asked Arshad. Dog in Spanish. He laughed. It was preferable to the "I love Jesus" cards she had brought home.
Names with * were changed to protect the refugees.