Carmichael Iraqi refugee invited to State of the Union Address
Living in Baghdad, Iraq, and working as an engineer for the U.S. military in 2005, Sarmed Ibrahim found himself fearing for his young family's safety and looking for a way out.
Never could he have imagined 11 years later he'd be living in Carmichael, Calif. and heading to the president's State of the Union address.
"It's an honor for me, it's a great opportunity to be in Washington, D.C.," Ibrahim said.
After leaving Iraq, his family stayed in Syria for four years before the U.S. accepted them as refugees in 2009.
Now, when he's not working as an engineer, Ibrahim volunteers with the local non-profit Opening Doors, which helps refugees resettle and acclimate to life in Sacramento.
On Monday, Congressman Ami Bera, D-Sacramento, invited Ibrahim to the president's annual address as his guest of honor, calling Ibrahim's story, "A powerful American success story that reflects our values of welcoming those fleeing violence and oppression, and giving them an opportunity to succeed."
Ibrahim knew it was time to leave Iraq after Al Qaeda attacked his home, littering the windows and walls with bullets.
His wife and two children were both home when the attack happened.
His daughter, Lauial Kamal, was just six at the time.
"It's always hard to go through and just to remember what happened, it's really hard," 17-year-old Kamal said, holding backing tears.
Kamal said adjusting to life in America took time, but now a year away from college, she's glad things turned out the way they did.
"I'm really happy to be here, safe, and great education," she said. "I have many opportunities to come, and college, life is just much better."
However, for those still trying to reach the U.S. from the Middle East, the trip may become even more challenging. In December, Congress voted to make anyone who visited Iraq or Syria in the last five years ineligible for the U.S. visa waiver program.
Plus, the Paris terror attack prompted GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump to call for a temporary ban on Muslim immigrants.
As part of his Washington trip, Ibrahim hopes to send a message of love and embracing community.
"Refugees are not threats, refugees are part of this community," Ibrahim said. "Keep the bridge building, just be our friend, our neighbor, we are your friend."