Obamas Invite Syrian Refugee Featured on Humans of New York as Guest at State of the Union

Illustration for article titled Obamas Invite Syrian Refugee Featured on Humans of New York as Guest at State of the Union

Michelle and Barack Obama have invited Refaai Hamo, a Syrian scientist featured on Humans of New York, to sit in the First Lady’s box during Tuesday’s State of the Union address.


Hamo, 55, left Syria after a missile hit his home and killed seven of his family members, including his wife and one of his daughters. In the HoNY post, Hamo, who has stomach cancer—which was untreated because he lacked insurance—said he wanted to “make a lasting contribution to humanity.”

His case attracted the attention of actor Edward Norton who organized a fundraising drive for Hamo and his four remaining children. After reading the HoNY post, President Obama called Hamo’s story “an inspiration,” adding that he was “proud that you’ll pursue your dreams here.”

After two years, Hamo was approved for refugee status and relocated to Detroit last month. In a statement, he said:

“I was thrilled when I heard that President Barack Obama is welcoming us into the United States. I felt that hope was revived as well as the strength to continue my dreams and ambition in my new country. I am so proud and honored to be in this country and look forward to one day becoming an American citizen so that we can be part of making America a strong and great country.”

USA Today notes that Hamo’s invitation is a signal from President Obama to the Congress. The newspaper describes the invitation as “a dramatic step to show he opposes Republican efforts to slow or halt the admission of refugees over terrorist concerns.”

Image via AP.


Good for the President. I’m not sure that this is a “dramatic” step by the President. Using regular people to highlight a particular piece of legislation or policy proposal is pretty standard. For example, American soldiers who were brought to the US as children and would have benefited from the DREAM Act have also been guests at the State of the Union. One of the teachers from Sandy Hook was a guest a few years ago. While apparently surprising to Republicans, asylum and refugee proceedings (and the refugees who then enter this country!) are neither new, nor unusual in the US. It’s domestic law and a treaty obligation that was championed in no small part by Eleanor Roosevelt, something which Americans should actually be quite proud of on the world stage if Americans were not so unfortunately ignorant of the US’ important role in developing international and human rights law.