A lot has gone right for Mushtaq Jihad in past year or so.
He has a new prosthetic leg thanks to a Tri-City community fundraising effort.
He was diagnosed with leukemia in 2013, but he looks healthier and stronger than ever.
The Richland man and his wife have a network of friends and supporters. Their four daughters are thriving.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Tri-City Herald
But the 43-year-old Iraqi refugee still faces a significant hurdle: He’s waiting for U.S. citizenship, and the process appears to have stalled.
“This is ridiculous, this is crazy, this makes no sense,” said Tom Roach, a longtime Pasco immigration attorney who’s helping Jihad.
“The case has been pending for more than two years. It usually takes two or three months,” Roach said.
The reason for the delay is unclear.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said she couldn’t comment on specific citizenship cases, but people who feel their applications are stalled should make inquiries.
Roach has tried to get to the bottom of Jihad’s delay, calling government officials and reaching out to Sen. Maria Cantwell’s office. But he still doesn’t have answers.
Meanwhile, Jihad recently learned he could lose his Supplemental Security Income benefits because he has been in the country for seven years and isn’t yet a citizen.
Still, he remains determined. And grateful to all the people who have helped him and his family. “These people changed my life,” he said.
Jihad is a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. with a green card. He and his family came to the states as refugees after fleeing their home country.
Their story is harrowing. Jihad first shared it with the Herald in January 2014:
In Baghdad, Jihad was a wealthy man who owned a string of electronics stores. But armed groups began kidnapping businessmen.
And in April 2005, he was snatched while leaving one of his stores. He was beaten and tortured before escaping.
He pursued his kidnappers in court, which made him a target. He received death threats and even was shot at while leaving court one day.
Then in April 2007, on the day a court decision was due, the young father set out to take his infant son to the doctor to be treated for jaundice.
Jihad and the baby were rocked by an explosion as they stepped out the door. Jihad lost his right leg, and his son died.
“The neighbors called the Iraqi police; they did not come. Then they called the American troops. They came, they were thinking I am dead. When they found out I am alive, the paramedics started to help me; and they took me to the hospital and the baby’s body to the morgue,” Jihad wrote in a narrative shared with the Herald.
Jihad, who had also been shot several times, was hospitalized for months.
After his release, he and his family went into hiding and then fled Iraq.
In August 2008, Jihad, his wife Adela and daughters, Fatima, Zahraa and Farah, arrived in the Tri-Cities as refugees. The nonprofit World Relief, which has an office in the Tri-Cities, helped them resettle.
The transition wasn’t easy. They didn’t speak English, and as a result, the girls had a hard time in school at first.
Jihad had multiple surgeries to remove shrapnel and deal with his injuries. And he struggled with heavier, cumbersome prosthetic legs.
Then in fall 2013, he was diagnosed with leukemia.
But there were happy times too. Youngest daughter Sarah joined the family.
And when the community learned about Jihad’s need for a new prosthetic leg — one that would enable him to work and take care of his family — more than $20,000 was raised.
Jihad takes pride in providing for his wife and daughters.
When the Herald caught up with him last winter, he was working at some Richland 7-Eleven stores, stocking, cleaning and the like.
He later joined Apollo Mechanical in Kennewick, working in the shop. He recently was laid off as the need for his type of labor slowed, but supervisor Johnny Hightower said he hopes to bring Jihad back on soon. “He’s a real good worker. He’s a hard worker,” Hightower said, adding that Jihad “wants to carry his own weight. That’s important to him.”
Jihad applied for citizenship in 2013, after the required waiting period had passed.
His case apparently is stuck in the “investigation” phase. Last December, an immigration spokesperson told the Herald that it’s not unusual for that phase to take months.
But it’s also not typical. The agency lists the processing wait time for naturalization applications through the Yakima office — the one Jihad used — as five months.
Roach said he fears the case is “just stuck on somebody’s desk.”
He noted Jihad already was investigated before he was allowed to live in the U.S., and he’s been in the country legally and without issues since 2008.
He’s been working, contributing, make a life for himself, Roach said. “He’s been doing the types of things that we want people to do who come to this country,” the attorney said.
For his part, Jihad seems undaunted. He’s been paying regular visits to WorkSource, he climbs Badger Mountain and exercises. He talks about taking college classes.
He talks about his family and his love for them. About his gratitude for the people who’ve helped him,.
About his determination. It’s important to him to be strong.
“Strong heart, strong life,” he said.