Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Haitham Hijazi heard Donald Trump’s promises to slow or halt immigration. But he didn’t think it would come to this.
“I thought that because there is a Constitution, because there is due process, this would not happen,” said Hijazi, who was born in Syria, came to the United States as a young adult and is now director of permitting, inspections and enforcement for the Prince George’s County government.
Hijazi’s elderly parents, green-card holders for 20 years, are caught up in the chaos touched off by Trump’s executive order temporarily banning citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries, and refugees worldwide, from entering the country.
Hijazi’s 85-year-old father, Abdullah, and 76-year-old mother, Aicha, spend winters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with his brother, but the rest of the year at Hijazi’s home in Bowie.
Their 90-day Saudi visitor visas expire in early March, and — because of Trump’s order — Hijazi is uncertain when they will be able to return.
Because of their age, he and his brother have decided for the moment not to tell them about the ban, hoping it can be resolved before they are due to leave.
“It’s very hectic, very confusing,” said Hijazi, 58, a structural engineer who has worked for the county for 24 years. “I don’t want to bring them back into this kind of situation. We’re hoping that the executive order will be clarified.”
Hijazi is proud of his American story, which began when his parents brought him and his two brothers to the United States from Syria in 1982.
His father, with a third-grade education, worked in construction. But he saw to it that Hijazi received a master’s degree from George Washington University and a PhD in engineering from the University of Maryland.
“There was no room in our house for laziness,” Hijazi said.
He described his parents as caring and compassionate people, who have kept their former home in Al-Tall, a suburb of Damascus, as a “safe haven” for families fleeing the violence of the brutal civil war that has shattered the country. His mother, in particular, has “a big heart and cares about everybody.”
“She wants to make sure that everybody is fed and taken care of,” he said.
Hijazi spent a decade as head of the Prince George’s Public Works and Transportation Department before his 2013 appointment to permitting and inspections by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D).
He is just one of two department heads Baker held over from the administration of his predecessor, Jack Johnson (D), who after leaving office was imprisoned on bribery and corruption charges.
Hijazi’s six children, four sons and two daughters, are all professionals, including one who is an attorney and another who followed him into engineering.
There are also 15 grandchildren, part of a large extended family that has settled in Prince George’s.
“Ultimately, we’ve become 100 Hijazis,” he said. “All citizens here.”