immigrants jalal
Image: Pete Stone

NAME Jalal Faks
BORN ON November 20, 1970
BORN IN Damascus, Syria
WORKS AS Adjudications Officer, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services
LIVES IN Sherwood
NATURALIZED ON March 30, 1999

I’VE BEEN WORKING AT the immigration office since 2002. I interview people to make sure they’re eligible for the benefits they’re seeking, whether it’s naturalization or permanent residency. Most, if not all, immigrants value the principles this country was founded on. That’s why you see the happiness on their faces when they take the oath. They’re proud.

I was born in Syria and grew up in Kuwait. When I was 18, I came here to study chemical engineering at Oregon State University. My dad had a business in Kuwait City selling new and used cars: American cars. Everybody loves American cars in the Middle East, because they can stand up to the weather.

Everything changed on August 2, 1990. I had just come home from class when I turned on CNN and the announcer said Iraq had invaded Kuwait. I watched airplanes bombarding Kuwait City and I’m like, “That’s my neighborhood! That’s where we live!”

My dad lost everything. He watched Iraqi soldiers load his cars onto trailers and truck them north. All of his property, his life savings—it all disappeared.

My brother had married an American, and so he sponsored my dad, my mother, my other brother, and my two sisters to come here. After they arrived in January 1993, my dad became a U.S. citizen as soon as he could. He loved this country, and until the day he died in 2004, he always reminded us how grateful we should be. My dad had lived in Kuwait for more than 40 years, but he was not allowed to become a Kuwaiti citizen because he had been born in Syria.

When my family visits Syria, we say we’re American. We are Arab Americans, but we always say the word “American.” It has become a part of who we are.

When I came home in 2007, the inspection officer at the airport asked me where I had been. I said, “Syria,” and she told me I needed to get an interview with a supervisor. When the supervisor asked me where I worked, he was surprised. He seemed embarrassed. I like to think that most Americans welcome immigrants and respect them and believe that the United States is better because of immigrants, not in spite of them.