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Alone, frustrated, and afraid for his family in Syria

There was a chill in the air Monday afternoon so Sam Jalhoum pulled his wool Sunoco cap on and headed out to the gas pumps on Derby Street in Hingham.

Sam works all day, every day. He is 61 years old and sometimes he works more than 100 hours a week.

“He’s a good worker,” Bill Merhej, his boss, was saying. “He won’t take a day off. I tell him to go home and he says, ‘Why should I go home? There’s nobody home.’ ’’

That’s because Sam Jalhoum’s four kids are in Syria, caught in a war that’s not their making.


Sam came to Boston 15 years ago. He got a job at a gas station in Hyde Park and worked every day, every hour, he could. He had a plan, to get established in America and bring his wife, Claudette, and their kids over.

He could never imagine how long, how convoluted, how maddening it would be. Missing them was bad enough. But as Syria descended into war and chaos, as his family was driven from their home, as death and destruction spread like a virus, he felt sick to his stomach.

But, every day, Sam Jalhoum got up and went to work. And every day, he tried to do something to bring his family here. He became a US citizen. He filled out every immigration form necessary. He hired a lawyer. He begged politicians to help.

A few months ago, his wife finally got here with a green card. But it wasn’t the way Sam imagined.

“Every night, I’d wake up to her crying,” he said. “She couldn’t sleep. She could only think of our children, in Syria.”

Claudette went back to Syria the other day.

“She loves America,” Sam said. “But she loves her children, too.”


Claudette will come back, God willing, if she’s not killed by government forces, the rebels who want to overthrow the regime, or the Islamic State barbarians who have frightened the sense out of too many people in this country.

It was hard enough for Syrian refugees to get to the United States before, even those with a family member here like Sam. But the overreaction in this country to the Paris attacks has made it so much harder.

It is beyond perverse that people like Sam Jalhoum’s kids, those who oppose the Islamic State more than any armchair xenophobe in this country ever could, those whose lives are under threat every day by the extremism we all rush to condemn, are hostages to red tape and apathy and prejudice.

Sam’s kids are all educated, all accomplished. Romeo speaks three languages. Rania worked as a TV reporter, but her father begged her to stop.

“Three of her friends were killed,” he said. “Murdered for doing their jobs.”

Majid, the older daughter, is a dentist. She works with refugees in Homs, north of Damascus. Her brother Eli works there, too.

“I help displaced families, like mine,” she told me over the phone. “It’s very dangerous here. And it’s very hard as a family to be separated like this, so long.”

A couple of months ago, Sam wrote a letter to Michelle Obama, asking for help. The first lady struck him as a nice person who cares.

But he never heard back. He’s called senators and congressmen, and nobody seems able to cut through the red tape and reunite a family.


All of his kids are in their mid-20s to early 30s, but none has married and Sam has no grandchildren.

“Nobody marries,” he said, then inhaled deeply and pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to stop his tears.

It was dark now, and as Sam gathered himself, he looked out to the traffic on Derby Street, which grew heavy as drivers peeled off Route 3, heading home, to their families.

“Nobody marries,” Sam Jalhoum finally said, almost in a whisper, shaking his head, “because they don’t want to bring a child into that.”

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.