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Legal services work brings a family together

Legal services work brings a family together

Published: April 22, 2013
Jody Mashek with Zerom

Jody Mashek, who directs AFSC's immigration legal services work in Des Moines, greets Zerom and two of his daughters at the AFSC office. Zerom is a refugee from Eritrea.

Photo: AFSC / Jon Krieg

An Eritrean refugee in Iowa is reunited with his family, with help from AFSC.

Jody Mashek can tell you all about the headaches, heartaches and frustrating delays of U.S. immigration law.

She can also show you the joy on a father’s face when he’s finally reunited with his family.

Jody directs the legal services component of AFSC’s Immigrants Voice Program in Des Moines. Each year the program assists several hundred immigrants and refugees from around the world.

Recently, one of Jody’s clients named Zerom, a refugee from the African nation of Eritrea, showed up at AFSC’s door simply to say thanks to Jody for her help.

He brought with him two of his three daughters who recently arrived in Des Moines. The girls were excited to see their first snow and eager to start school the next Monday.

Zerom came to the U.S. in 2010 as a refugee after living in a refugee camp in Ethiopia.  In 2011, Jody helped him file petitions for his wife and three daughters to join him here.

Zerom is one of several Eritreans who’ve settled in Central Iowa after fleeing violence and forced conscription at home. Many work in meatpacking plants and support each other in adjusting to their new lives here.

The family reunification process takes time. After refugees’ petitions are approved by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, they are sent overseas to the country where family members are residing. The family has to have medical exams, attend an interview and go through security checks. DNA checks are commonly required to prove paternity.

Jody said she feels happy for the families she helps reunite. “They’ve gone through so much turmoil and trauma,” she said. “Many fathers haven’t seen their children since they were babies or toddlers.”

Jody added that a successful case like Zerom’s gives hope to other families awaiting reunification. “It makes me especially happy because it lets others in their community see that, ‘This is possible.’ It’s hard to be patient, it’s hard to wait. But it will happen.”