Five couples, refugees who fled their Asian country just to be able to spend the rest of their lives with their soulmate, got married in Skokie Wednesday afternoon.
What some may take for granted, one couple says, is not only life changing, but was at one point a life-threatening decision.
“Not only jail, they can hurt you and also kill you,” said Jani Alam, an interpreter for one of the couples.
Alam explained how Mohamad Islam Bin Ajmal Hakim and his wife Ajidah Binti Waliahmed faced forced labor and discrimination for being Muslim in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
Their marriage was only recognized by the two of them—until now.
“There is discrimination,” said Alam. “We’re not allowed to get married. If we do, they will arrest us and put us in jail.”
“If it weren’t for their ability to get married right now… it’s easy to imagine if somebody were, God forbid, in an accident and had to go the hospital… their family, their children, wouldn’t be able to visit them in the hospital or wouldn’t be able to make decisions for them legally,” said Jims Porter, another RefugeeOne interpreter.
RefugeeOne is a Chicago-based organization that has resettled more than 18,000 refugees since 1982 and most recently, helped this couple last December.
On Wednesday, at the Skokie Courthouse, policy coordinator Jims Porter was seated in the front row to see all five couples and their children commence a new chapter in their lives.
“The inability to be legally recognized as a couple, to have tax benefits, hospital visitation rights, the types of things we think of here that come along with marriage, those were the things they were being denied,” said Porter.
Despite the growing national debate surrounding immigration and a more than a 75 percent drop in refugee arrivals to the United States in the last two years, according to RefugeeOne, Hakim and Waliahmed say they still feel like this will be a fresh start.
“This is the actual life we just started since we arrived in the United States,” said Alam. “We have no scare in our heart.”