Trump: No problem with Syrian refugee Hamo

Chad Livengood and Melissa Nann Burke The Detroit News

Michigan’s famed Syrian refugee Rafaai Hamo became the subject of a Republican presidential debate question Thursday night to front runner Donald Trump.

In a question about his proposed temporary ban on Muslims entering the country, Trump was asked about Hamo, a civil engineer whose plight was highlighted by President Barack Obama and who was among the Democratic commander in chief’s 23 guests in a special box with first lady Michelle Obama at Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

Fox Business Network moderator Neil Cavuto said, “The president says that that doctor is the real face of these refugees and not the one that you and some of your colleagues on this stage are painting....”

Trump said Hamo was not representative of the threat he is talking about on the campaign trail, but among the Syrian refugees there could be a “great Trojan horse. It could be people that are going to do great, great destruction.”

“It’s not fear and terror. It’s reality,” Trump said, citing attacks in Indonesia, Paris and San Bernandino, California.

Hamo, 54, a son and three of his daughters survived a missile attack on their home in Afrin, Syria, two years ago that killed his wife and a daughter. They spent two years as refugees in Turkey before gaining entry last month to relocate to Michigan.

“Very nice, everything perfect,” Trump said about Hamo, “but that is not representative of what you have in that line of migration.

“... our country’s a mess, and we can’t let all these people come into our country and break our borders. We can’t do it.”

The family’s story of fleeing Syria and relocating to the United States after two years living as refugees in Turkey gained national attention when Hamo was featured in an article on the website Humans of New York, which dubbed Hamo “The Scientist” in a seven-part photo essay.

Obama weighed in on Hamo’s plight in a Dec. 9 Facebook post that quickly went viral.

“As a husband and a father, I cannot even begin to imagine the loss you have endured. You and your family are an inspiration,” Obama said. “... I know that the great people of Michigan will embrace you with the compassion and support you deserve. Yes, you can still make a difference in the world, and we’re proud that you’ll pursue your dreams here. Welcome to your new home. You’re part of what makes America great.”

With the assistance of Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, Hamo and his family moved into a condo in Troy after arriving Dec. 17 at Detroit Metropolitan Airport as among the nation’s most celebrated Syrian refugees. Actor Edward Norton raised $463,335 for the family in a Crowdrise campaign.

The next day, in an exclusive interview with The Detroit News, Hamo said he wants to work toward becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen.

“I was born as a human and raised as a human but I have been in some situations that made me feel not like a human,” said Hamo, who holds a doctorate and was a consultant to corporations in Syria. “I want to give back. Otherwise, it isn’t worth anything.”

clivengood@detroitnews.com