By Kilian Colin
I went to Duncan Hunter’s Town Hall to get answers. Instead, I got insults.
On March 11, I awoke at 5 a.m. and rushed to the shower. Then I had a couple bites of bread and a cup of tea so I could take my morning pill.
I left my house in El Cajon around 6 a.m., heading to Ramona Mainstage. I was told the day before by Indivisible East County that I should be there as early as 7 a.m. to be able to get to the Town Hall at 10 a.m. because Duncan already invited the Tea Party members in Ramona to fill the stage before us. They were right.
I was in Ramona a few minutes before 7 a.m. and there already were 30 people in line; most of them were Tea Party members. I asked a nice lady to save my spot in line while I could go and hold the sign “Investigate and Release” on the other side of the street along with other protesters.
When I was on the other side with a couple of ladies of Indivisible SD County, an elderly white lady with a “Trump Pence” pin on her chest approached me and asked what my sign meant.
I explained to her respectfully that it was to demand an independent or bipartisan investigation into the Trump Organization ties to Russia.
She told me: “You are not even American; why would you put your nose in other people’s business?”
I told her: “Ma’am, I do have an accent, but I am an American as much as you and I am also registered to vote.”
I did not take it personally because I know that people get emotional during political events and they are entitled to their personal opinion. I went back to the other side of the street because I didn’t want to be far away from my spot in line so I wouldn’t lose it.
A lot of Trump supporters approached me and asked me what my sign meant. And every time I answered them with my accent. They would say: “You are not American” or “Go back home” or “Go f**k yourself — this is a Christian country and Trump is going to bring this land back to God and his people.”
Their words reminded me of Al-Qaida and the Iranian militias’ statements in Iraq after 2003.
Yes, you heard me right the first time. I am a Muslim American who was born in Iraq as a Muslim with Jewish grandparents from my mother’s side.
I came to the U.S. as a refugee on July 28, 2011, at 3 p.m. Pacific Time. I didn’t get upset by the Tea Party members statements as much as I got upset from Hunter’s statement that “Muslims don’t share our Judeo-Christian values that we have in this country.” And then he said: “I support a permanent ban on these countries and I want President Trump to add more countries to that ban.”
And he also said that refugees who came under President Obama’s terms, including me and my family, were not vetted properly and we should investigate them and deport those who don’t share our values. His words literally.
This is the guy who is representing me on the federal level and is supposed to defend me against all odds. Instead he is asking for my deportation because of my religion. This is the public official who is getting paid by my tax money. I was so upset and angry with him.
These kind of bigots think that being a refugee is a choice. I am not sure why anyone on earth wants to be a refugee. Why would people be willing to leave their town, their friends from school, their businesses, jobs, families?
Why did I leave all that behind? I wanted to be there when my grandparents passed away. I wanted to say goodbye to them before they left us. I simply couldn’t do that at all.
On April 9, 2003, I woke up at 2:30 a.m. to a booming sound. My bed was covered with pieces of glass from the window and my room was shaking like an earthquake. I ran out of the room with my sister and I saw my parents running towards us, too.
We were living in an apartment on the second floor. We ran downstairs and knocked the door hard on our neighbor’s apartment. Our neighbor opened the door and we headed to a storage space under the stairs, and the five of us did hide there.
We were all shaking too bad from the booming and the shooting sounds. We stayed there until 8 a.m. in the morning when the battle to take Baghdad was over in my neighborhood.
We thanked our neighbor and apologized that we came to his house almost half-naked. He understood and said that he was scared himself and didn’t even intentionally open the apartment door to us, because he wasn’t sure what he was doing.
After we changed our clothing, I went with my dad to the nearby market, about half a mile away, to buy bread and food for our breakfast. All we had seen in our way to the market was people going as groups and looting the hospital nearby and other public offices in our neighborhood.
American soldiers were standing nearby these public offices, so I asked them why they were not doing anything to save the hospital and these offices from these thieves.
Two American solders responded to me and said: “We opened the gate for them to clean up everything inside, then we can bomb it and later we will build a new one for you guys.”
I was 13 years old at the time and didn’t want to have a longer conversation with these soldiers.
My dad started months after the invasion to work at a prison in Baghdad that was opened and managed by the U.S. military. On March 2005, my father was kidnapped by Alsadar militias in Baghdad on his way to work, and they demanded a ransom to release him or they would kill him because he was Sunni and also a traitor who worked with Americans.
My mother sold our car and all the furniture of the house and asked my uncle to take this money to these militias so they could release my dad. They did release my dad after a couple of days.
My dad was not hurt physically, but he suffered from PTSD for many years after. A few days after my dad was freed, we headed to Syria and stayed there as refugees until we came to the U.S.
We registered as refugees in 2005 with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, and we did five interviews with them for over 2.5 years. The UNHCR determined that we were eligible for a resettlement program in the U.S. After being vetted by the UNHCR, we had to go through three interviews with the International Organization for Migration.
The IOM also had to vet us individually and they had the last word to decide if our story was true before forwarding our file to the Department of Homeland Security.
After many years of waiting, we finally got a call from the IOM, scheduling us for three interviews with the DHS. On that day, the DHS interviewed us all together as a family and they asked us to tell the story of our life and why we wanted to be resettled in the U.S.
After that, my father had his individual interview with the DHS and I had mine, too, since I was already an adult. After the interview was done, our fingerprints and photos were taken and then we waited a couple of years after that to be cleared by the DHS.
Our vetting process in total took about seven years.
During these seven years in Syria, we lived in the shadow of the Syrian society. People here think that because we were Muslims, we were automatically welcomed in Syria. In fact, we were treated as undocumented aliens in Syria.
We were not allowed to work or go to school there. We were also required to leave the country after three months. So what we did for seven years was we left the city of Aleppo where we stayed every three months and we took the bus to the Syrian-Iraqi border for 15 hours one way. Then the bus dropped us at the Syrian border. Then we’d walk about a mile to the Iraqi side.
We’d get our entry stamp from Iraq and our exit stamp from the same officer on this border, then we’d head back to the Syrian border. We had to pay about a $20 bribe to the Syrian border officers for each person, so they would let us back into their country. Then after that, we would take the bus for another 15 hours going back to Aleppo.
Yes, we did that for seven years every three months.
Yes, we were not allowed to work legally in Syria, but in reality we were all working under the table and were underpaid. My dad was selling his paintings so he was kind of a business owner and my mom was working as a psychic from home.
I was working as a sales representative for 16 hours a day walking in the street, selling Internet dial-up cards to stores in Aleppo. I later got a job in a center opened by the Danish Red Cross for Iraqi refugees as a social support center.
Four weeks after arriving to San Diego, I got my Social Security card in the mail, and on the sixth week I was already employed by a Subway restaurant in El Cajon. Before that, my sister and I were looking for a job 60 hours a week starting the third day after arriving to the U.S.
After a couple of months, I started working at Walmart and my sister was already working at a 99 Cents Only store. I already spoke English when I came to the U.S. but none of my family members did. I was the one applying for jobs for me, my sister and my parents.
I was also the one doing all the paperwork, paying the bills, and helping them with their homework when they were taking ESL classes at the adult school nearby.
My mother later got her license in child care and opened up her child-care business at home. She was making a decent salary and she hired my sister, and they are both paying a lot of federal and state taxes.
My father also got his license as a security guard and he works almost every night at a construction location because simply no American citizen wanted to do his job.
I also found a job with the International Rescue Committee in 2012 and worked as a resettlement case worker and helped hundreds of families in my two years with this agency, who were recently resettled in the U.S. from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and some parts of Africa.
I later found another job with Wells Fargo because I wanted to have more experience to add to my resume so I could achieve the American Dream. I was also going to San Diego Mesa College as a full-time student to study more English and Math. Last year, I started working on my chemical engineering degree.
I am a good American citizen. When Hunter said that Muslims must be banned permanently so our kids feel safe again, I respond to him and say:
Aren’t we safer now after Iraqi refugees built and improved the city of El Cajon and created thousands of jobs in the area? Aren’t we safer now, after I and my family paid more federal taxes in the last seven years more than the president of the United State paid in these seven years?
Why am I treated as a fifth-class citizen by my own government and my own representative? Is it because I am not a white Christian?
I had to change my name from Khalid Taha to Kilian Colin because of fears of being prosecuted by my own government due to the fact that Khalid Taha is a Muslim name.
I came to this country not only because I had no other country to go to, but also because it is the land of justice and liberty for all. I didn’t know that Muslims are not included with the “all” statement in Trump’s America.
That’s why I resist. That’s why I protest and attend Town Hall meetings, and why I am registered to vote and contribute to the Democratic National Committee monthly because they are the only party that is defending me now.
I will persist, resist and fight peacefully until the last day of my life, because I don’t want to see what happened to Iraq happen here. I want a better future for me and my kids.
I believe that the sun will shine again, if not tomorrow, then for sure after tomorrow.
Kilian Colin lives in El Cajon.