A Sudanese man living in Washington state has been reunited with his three younger siblings after five years of struggle with the U.S. government to get them out of his war-torn homeland.
Ater Malath, 30, sought help from local relief agencies and approached almost every congressional office in the area in his quest to bring his brother and two sisters to America.
Assisted by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Malath last week was reunited with his younger siblings, Mary, 21; Peter, 19; and Martha, 17.
Their mother was killed in 2001 when government militia attacked their village of Nyangkot. Their father had died of disease years earlier.
After they fled to a refugee camp in Uganda, a friend told the three younger siblings of their brother, Ater, whom the two oldest barely remembered.
Ater had been at school in Rumbek when a militia group attacked in 1994. He fled to Kenya and the following year was approved for resettlement in the U.S., gaining citizenship in 2001.
Ater dropped out of North Seattle Community College to take a job and support his family in Uganda. A family friend helped him get them moved from the camp to a rented house in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.
To send them money and pay their bills, Ater, a cab driver, at times worked three jobs, all the time planning to bring them to the United States.
"I told them I would bring them here, not to worry," he said.
But immigration officials who interviewed the children in 2004 rejected their application for refugee resettlement. They were told their stated fears of returning to Sudan lacked credibility and consistency.
The denial notice said there was no appeal.
"That was the thing that scared us," Mary said. "We didn't think we could overcome that."
Ater contacted several agencies that saw little hope for the family following the denial.
He persisted with Bina Hanchinamani Ellefsen, a lawyer with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project who said the agency usually doesn't accept refugee-resettlement cases.
"We knew this was a tough case. It was the week of Christmas. He didn't have anywhere else to go," she said.
Ater also got help from Rita Stewart with U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott's office, who learned immigration officials had noted a discrepancy with the children's names.
Ater had listed his siblings by their Sudanese Dinka names on an application he completed in the mid-1990s, but the children used their Christian names on their resettlement forms.
Ellefsen said the children also had no one advocating on their behalf and had not adequately explained their horrific experience in Sudan or their fear of returning.
Under recommendation of immigration officials, the family took DNA tests to prove their relationship. Ater paid nearly $1,000 for the tests.
In Uganda, Peter collected the results from the United Nations offices.
"I slipped the paper out of the envelope and closed my eyes," he said.
Immigration officials had reversed their December 2004 decision.
Last week, Mary, Peter and Martha arrived in Seattle, greeted by well-wishers and handmade signs that read, "Welcome Home to America."
The four siblings plan to move from the studio apartment Ater rents in SeaTac to a two-bedroom residence in Tukwila.
The two youngest have enrolled in school and Mary intends to attend community college.
"My brother and sisters, they are OK now," Ater said.
— The Associated Press