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Chicago Ridge family reunited: Mother in Yemen allowed to join son recovering from cancer

After months awaiting approval from the federal government, a Yemeni mother was able to come to the U.S. to be with her son, who’d been undergoing leukemia treatment.

From left to right, Mohamed, Ali, Mohsin, and Abdullah Omer pose for a portrait at their home in Chicago Ridge, Illinois, Tuesday, June 22, 2021.
Mohamed, from left, Ali, Mohsin and Abdullah Omer at their home in Chicago Ridge.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Abdulla Omer sat, quiet, with his two giggling brothers in the living room of their new home in Chicago Ridge.

Abdulla, 13, tried to hide behind his baseball hat. He’d spent the past couple of months without his mother and siblings as he underwent chemotherapy after doctors discovered he had Burkitt leukemia.

Mohsin Omer, the boy’s father, had balanced having the family in the Chicago area and in Yemen until his son’s diagnosis prompted them to apply in January for an expedited humanitarian parole so his wife could join them in the Chicago area.

Omer’s wife Sanaa Saleh Abdellah Mohammad and their children lived in Yemen while Omer, a U.S. citizen, worked in the United States. Abdulla, their oldest son, moved to Chicago Ridge with his father in February 2020 — just before the coronavirus pandemic hit — to attend American schools.

The family tried unsuccessfully to get U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to expedite the application that would have allowed Saleh Abdellah Mohammad to temporarily enter the United States because of an emergency situation.

Instead, the family had to wait the usual 90 to 120 days for a decision. By late April, they got the word: Her application was approved.

Mohsin Omer flew to Spain, then to Egypt and on to Yemen to help his wife get the visa.

“I cried at the embassy,” said Omer, who was surprised that the family was able to get the visa the same day.

By May, the family was reunited with Abdulla and together in the United States. In addition to his wife, his 11-year-old daughter Wafa, 10-year-old son Mohamed and 7-year-old son Ali also came to the United States.

They have spent the past couple of weeks settling into their new apartment in Chicago Ridge, not far from where Omer’s parents live.

Mohsin Omer at his home in Chicago Ridge.
Mohsin Omer at his home in Chicago Ridge.
Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

For nearly five years, the family has had a pending “petition for alien relative” that would allow his wife to become a permanent U.S. resident through marriage. Omer said he is working with a lawyer and thinks the application might be resolved within a couple of months.

Omer used to travel for four or five months to his native Yemen to visit his wife and children.

But the ongoing conflict in Yemen — stemming from a civil war in 2014 — had made it more difficult for him to travel there. Flights to Yemen are limited, and traveling there now takes days, he said.

Abdulla’s last chemotherapy session was in late April. But he still has monthly hospital visits, Omer said.

Because of the pandemic, the family tries to limit time outside of the home. Omer said he tries to take the children to the park every couple of days so Abdulla can work on his mobility.

“He’s doing great,” Omer said. “When he stayed five months in the hospital, he had no movements. That’s the only issue. When he walks, he can’t run.”

Brothers Mohamed (from left), Abdullah and Ali at their new home in Chicago Ridge.
Brothers Mohamed (from left), Abdullah and Ali at their new home in Chicago Ridge.
Anthony Vazquez / Sun-Times

Saleh Abdellah Mohammad, speaking with her husband’s translation, said she barely slept while her son was in the hospital and is relieved that he’s doing better and that she no longer is so far away. But she said she is still adjusting to the United States and misses her life in Yemen.

Omer left his job as a truck driver and started working at a gas station so he can spend more time with his family.

Through an organization that’s contacted the family, they might get to travel together sometime next year. They’re trying to decide where they would go. Omer wants to take the family to Spain. Abdulla wants to see Paris. Saleh Abdellah Mohammad wants to travel to Turkey.

“Now, I’m relieved,” Omer said, sitting with his sons. “It’s a blessing when you have your kids and wife next to you.”

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.