Syrian refugee among guests in Obama's final State of the Union address

Refaai Hamo, a scientist who fled Syria and to resettle in Michigan with his family, will be one of the guests for the president's last State of the Union address on Tuesday. 

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo/File
In this Jan. 20, 2015, file photo, President Barack Obama waves before giving his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington. A Syrian refugee will be among the guests for the president's final State of the Union on Tuesday, Jan. 12.

A Syrian scientist stricken with cancer and seeking a new start for his family in Michigan will represent Syrian refugees as a guest of first lady Michelle Obama for the president's final State of the Union address.

President Barack Obama has committed to accepting an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees, but some Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates are critical of the expansion. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, for example, noted the recent arrest of two Iraqi refugees. During an interview with CNN that aired Sunday, Cruz emphasized that they came to the United States "using the same vetting that President Obama wants us to trust with Syrian refugees."

Refaai Hamo, his son and three daughters landed at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in December, anxious to rebuild their lives. Hamo fled to Turkey from Syria after a missile attack killed his wife and one other daughter. Hamo was profiled on the popular photo blog Humans of New York and identified as "The Scientist."

The White House said Sunday that Hamo will be among about 20 guests who will sit near the first lady on Tuesday. The guests include several veterans and service members, including one of the three Americans who thwarted a terrorist attack aboard a Paris-bound train.

Those on the guest list will highlight issues that Obama has attempted to prioritize during his tenure, such as expanded health insurance coverage, and issues that he hopes to work on during his final year, such as criminal justice reform. The guest list includes a California man whose partner was killed in the San Bernardino attack, the first female Army Reserve officer to graduate from the Army's elite Ranger School and a plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case that found same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. One seat will be empty, to represent the victims of gun violence.

Obama read about Hamo's story last month. His cancer had gone untreated because he lacked health insurance. The actor, Ed Norton, set up for the Hamo family an online fundraising campaign that raised more than $450,000. The White House described Hamo as living the kind of life in Syria that is associated with the American dream. He married his college sweetheart, and they built a life together before a missile tore through the complex he helped design and where his family lived.

Obama told Hamo through a Facebook posting that, "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."

Other guests include:

— Staff Sgt. Spencer Stone of Sacramento, California, who, along with Anthony Sadler and U.S. Army Specialist Alex Skarlatos, stopped a man from opening fire on passengers aboard a crowded Paris-bound train.

— Oscar Vazquez of Fort Worth, Texas, a veteran who came to the U.S. as a child from Mexico, and now works as a business analyst and advocate for Latino students.

— Sue Ellen Allen of Scottsdale Arizona, co-founder of a nonprofit that helps former prisoners re-enter society.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.