Iraqi refugees become citizens, cast first votes

November 7, 2018

Two Iraqi refugees became U.S. citizens just in time for them to cast their first ballots.

Sufyan and Israa Aldulaimi live in Durham and say they’re honored to lend their voices to shaping their community and country.

Their apartment is different from their Iraqi home in 2005. The lights stayed on. Nobody pounded on the door, looking to kidnap Sufyan Aldulaimi’s brother.

“Thousands of people, maybe more, lost their lives just because they belong to this religion or to this group or to this party,” Sufyan Aldulaimi said.

Sectarian violence led to the deaths of seven of Aldulaimi’s relatives.

His brother was abducted but later safely returned.

Aldulaimi remembers voting back home.

“You vote, but the people who run the country are not who you choose or not the ones you think are going to run it for better,” he said.

Aldulaimi, who studied English at Baghdad University, had been an interpreter for U.S. troops.

As his country bled, he and his wife longed to leave.

Since his language skills aided U.S. forces, he and Israa and their two daughters were granted visas in 2012.

This October, Sufyan and Israa Alduliami became U.S. citizens.

“It’s really like a dream,” Sufyan Aldulaimi said.

The two voted early. It felt good, they said.

“To use the right to choose the right people to be directors of the ship,” Aldulaimi said.

It felt a little overwhelming, too, they said.

“Yes, it was very good – ha, because I was very scared,” Israa Alduliami said.

They said they could cast their votes without fear of being castigated and with the assurance that representative democracy would keep the lights on, even when things look dim.

“Let’s unite the United States,” Sufyan Aldulaimi said. “Let’s work for that goal. Let’s build bonds.”

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