In 2012, they were running for their lives from the Syrian civil war, said Bdour Hussein, but were stopped at the border with Jordan.

For three days, her family had no food. The children wept from hunger. And she was powerless to help them.

It was a miracle they made it that far, she said, that they were all alive — her husband, Ayhem Almousse, and their two children, Hanin and Zakerye — a wonder they had survived the violence and terror. They spent the next four years living in and around a refugee camp.

But that's not what she wants to talk about, Hussein said in an interview. What she wants people to know about the family's new life in the United States is this:

They did not come here for a handout.

She works. She pays taxes. She pays rent.

In fact, with her husband disabled by the war, Hussein has broken out of the traditional, nonworking role of Syrian women and become the main support for her family.

"I wish the door was open for more people to come," she said in Arabic. "This is life. The other side of the world is not."

On Thursday, Hussein, 30, will join other Philadelphia-area refugees and resettlement agency officials to speak out against what they see as the Trump administration's effort to end the nation's historic role as a haven for people fleeing war, genocide, persecution or natural disaster.

A news conference is set for 10 a.m. Thursday at Nationalities Service Center, which with HIAS PA and Bethany Christian Services has resettled more than 2,000 refugees in the Philadelphia area in the last four years.

Scheduled to speak is neuropsychologist and HIAS PA volunteer David Glosser, the uncle of White House immigration hard-liner Stephen Miller, who excoriated his nephew as a hypocrite in a recent Politico essay.

Bdour Hussein, who came to Philadelphia as a refugee from Syria and now supports her family.
Bdour Hussein, who came to Philadelphia as a refugee from Syria and now supports her family.

The world demand for help is great, with an estimated 25.4 million people currently forced from their homelands, according to the United Nations. President Trump and his administration believe the nation has lost control of its borders and want to reduce virtually every form of immigration.

By law, the president must set an annual cap on refugee admissions before the new fiscal year starts on Oct. 1. Trump set the current cap at 45,000, a nearly four-decade low, and less than half the 110,000 set by President Barack Obama in 2016. Only about half of those 45,000 are expected to have been admitted by the time the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

Local resettlement agency officials say they hear that Trump might drop the cap to 25,000, with perhaps only half of that number actually entering the country due to bureaucratic slow-downs.

Refugees differ from some other classifications of migrants in that they carry a specific legal status. If chosen for resettlement in the United States, they undergo extensive security checks, then must apply for permanent-resident status a year after being admitted.

Hussein has turned in her application and is waiting to receive her green card, which would allow her to live and work permanently in America.

Last week, she talked about her journey from war to freedom during a break from her job at Suraya, the Middle Eastern restaurant in Fishtown.

It turned out that the restaurant needed someone who could make authentic kibbeh, a dish that's more complicated than it looks. And Hussein happened to be an expert.

"It's a huge asset being able to hire someone like Bdour," said owner and chef Nick Kennedy. "Having people with that direct first-hand knowledge is fantastic."

It's a long way from Syria to Fishtown.

As they fled the war in late 2012, the family was split at the border. Hussein and the children were admitted to Jordan, but her husband was turned away. Months later, he was allowed to join them at a Jordanian refugee camp.

Conditions were so harsh that the family sneaked away, moving into a local village and living in a deserted warehouse.

All the time, Hussein said, she thought of what she wanted for her children: To have enough food. To have a home. To go to school, gain an education.

In 2015, still in Jordan, the family was contacted by the U.N. Did they wish to be resettled in the U.S.?

Hussein wasn't sure at first. She wondered, even as her family grew, would they be welcome as Arab Muslims?

Other Syrians told her to do it: Jobs could be found in America. And children could go to school. After months of U.S.-government vetting, the family arrived in South Philadelphia in August 2016.

The culture shock was enormous — "new language, new everything" — but people were kind, Hussein said. In September 2017, they moved into a rented house in Northeast Philadelphia.

Hussein is still learning English, but her children — daughter Hanin, 7, and sons Zakerye, 6, Mohammed, 4, and Abdoulle, 3 — seem to effortlessly absorb the language.

She wishes she could speak directly to people in power, the people around the president, to tell them about the refugees who want to come here and work hard. About the people who would be great Americans if they only had a chance.

"Imagine all those people [to whom the government says], 'Don't come.' Imagine all those people if they could come, and work and pay taxes, build the economy," Hussein said. "We are not whatever they think we are."