Suleiman placed the steaming bowl of couscous on my desk. Although the bowl was covered tightly by aluminum foil, some of the spice-laden aroma escaped, wafting in the air, scenting my Cicero Avenue office like a Saharan oasis. He presented the couscous to me as a gesture of deep and heart-felt thanks. The agency where I served as Executive Director, the Polish Welfare Association, had recently and successfully processed his papers under the amnesty program. Suleiman could now come out of the shadows, and proudly say that he was now a legal resident of the United States.
As a youth in his hometown of Rabat, Morocco, Suleiman would talk to American travelers who would stop at his father’s pistachio kiosk in the souk. They told him about the cities and towns where they lived, and how America was the land of opportunity for everyone. Unlike many of his friends who sought to better their lives in France, Suleiman always hoped to find a chance to live in the United States
After finding employment on a cruise ship at the age of twenty, Suleiman worked four years in the ship’s galley. After the end of a cruise in Ft. Lauderdale, Suleiman never returned to the ship, illegally entering the United States in 1972. For years he found work mostly in restaurants and bakeries in Chicago, where his cousin lived. He met his wife, Agniezkca, working at a Polish bakery in the Avondale neighborhood. She came to Chicago in 1975 from Poland, sponsored by her brother who owned the bakery. When they wed in 1983, she already was a naturalized citizen after having received immigration counseling from Polish Welfare.
Agnieszka brought her husband to our agency because she knew that he would qualify for amnesty under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. The Polish Welfare Association was an INS approved processing center, the most popular agency in Chicago for the Polish community to participate in the legalization program. Each day, the agency was inundated with clients making their applications for the program. Although the vast majority of clients were Poles, about 15% came from other countries. Suleiman was one of the 5300 people legalized by Polish Welfare during the twelve months of the amnesty program.
Suleiman, a magnificent cook and pastry chef, had a fervent dream of one day opening his own restaurant. He enrolled in a community college course and learned how to prepare a business plan. However he feared taking that plan to a bank because of his illegal status. The amnesty program, and his subsequent legalization, permitted him to move forward and approach a bank for a business loan. He secured that loan and put down a down payment for a restaurant downstate. I guess sometimes in life dreams do come true.