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As Congress moves forward with immigration reform, we take a look at how this issue connects to culture, business and families in the Northwest.Our region is home to a unique blend of immigrants who work in all parts of our economy — from high-tech to agriculture. This population already has a deeply-rooted history here. And its ranks are expanding rapidly.Proposals for comprehensive immigration reform address border security, employment verification, guest-worker programs and pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US.

Syrian refugee, 7 months pregnant. Flight to join Seattle family, cancelled

This week was meant to be a reunion for the Al Halabi family. They’re Syrian refugees who live just south of Seattle. Two grown children, still in Turkey, were set to fly here Monday. One of them is almost seven months pregnant.  But the president’s immigration ban means they’ll remain separated indefinitely.

The Al Halabi family recently moved to a bigger apartment in Tukwila to make room for the new arrivals.

"My daughter, Jaidaa. Son, Walid. Husband [of my] daughter, Abdulmalik," lists Imtithal Al Halabi, the family matriarch.

She’s on a video chat with her daughter, Jaidaa, when I arrive.

Jaidaa’s at her apartment in Turkey. You can see an Arabic-English dictionary on the table. Her husband is at her side. Their baby is due in April. It’s the first grandchild for this family.

Everyone’s trying to put on a hopeful face. And the effort shows. But the youngest daughter, Alaa, is a spark of distraction.

She’s 11. She boldly points to my camera and wants a turn.

"Here, let’s take a picture of your brother," I say.

Alaa says something to her brother in Arabic, and her 19-year-old brother hams it up, flexing his muscles.

"Say cheese," Alaa commands. "It’s good?"

"That’s nice. You're a photographer!" I say. (Check out some of Alaa's photos in the slideshow above.)

[asset-images[{"caption": "Mohamad Al Halabi. First photo taken by his 11-year-old sister, Alaa. (See more of her photos in the slideshow above).", "fid": "133364", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201701/P1080625.JPG", "attribution": "Credit Photo by Alaa Al Halabi, age 11"}]]The Al Halibi family came here as a family of four: mom, dad, two younger kids. They're pretty new to Seattle.

"One month and 17 days," Imtithal says.

"You know the days," I say.

Of course Imtithal knows exactly how long it’s been since she said goodbye to her other children.

Her husband Ahmad says he was worried whether his two older kids would make it here, even before President Trump's executive order. A family friend interprets for him.

"I didn’t want to get ahead of myself and start preparing for the baby. A lot of friends offered a crib and baby equipment but I didn't want to take it. I said those things come easily and quickly. I just want for my daughter to come here first and then I’ll be reassured," Ahmad says.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Imtithal Al Halabi on a video chat with her daughter in Turkey.", "fid": "133362", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201701/P1080624.JPG", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Liz Jones"}]]Trump’s directive ends the Syrian refugee resettlement program in the U.S., immediately and indefinitely. It also suspends all refugee admissions for four months and imposes a 90-day ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries.          

Many Democratic politicians denounce the order as religious bigotry. Many Republicans defend it as a necessary measure for national security.

Politics aside, this father, Ahmad Al Halibi, has a personal message for President Trump.

"I respect his decision that he wants to protect his country. I want to say that we are a peaceful people. We just want to live in one place together. All we want is to live in peace. I hope he will make some exceptions," Ahmad says.

This family fled their home in Aleppo and the devastation there a few years ago. The children missed school. In Turkey they found odd jobs to make ends meet, like restaurant work and cell phone repairs. 

More than 230 Syrian refugees have been resettled in Washington state since the conflict started there.

Imtithal says she tries to stay strong for her kids in Turkey. Tell them they’ll be together again, things will get better. But when she talks about this baby girl on the way, her first grandchild, it hurts.

As they talk, even without understanding any Arabic, you can clearly here one word our languages share: baby.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Alaa Al Halabi, self portrait", "fid": "133365", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201701/P1080642.JPG", "attribution": "Credit Photo by Alaa Al Halabi, age 11"}]]For this family, seeing the massive turnout of support these last few days – with rallies in Seattle and around the country — they say they feel welcome, and at home.

Alaa, the 11-year-old amateur photographer, nods in agreement.

"It’s good, but if my siblings come here it will be better and better," she says.

At least for now, there’s no path for that to happen.

See more photos taken by 11-year-old Aala.

Editor's note: This family initially used the pseudonym Al Halabi as their last name, due to safety concerns. They now use their real last name, Bazara.

Liz Jones can be reached at Have a story idea? Use our story pitch form

Year started with KUOW: 2006