Noori Barka came to California on an H-1B visa in 1986 to work for Santa Monica-based Specialty Laboratories, a medical diagnostics company best known for its clinical testing services. Barka said he had just completed his doctorate in immunology in Belgium, and moved to America with his wife, Evelyn, and his son, David, who was then barely a month old.
At that time, Iraq had been locked for close to six years in war with Iran. Despite the enormous casualties, Barka said there weren’t many refugees emigrating from Iraq to the U.S. back then.
But that has all changed in recent years.
Barka (pictured above), who left Specialty Labs to start the clinical diagnostics supplier Calbiotech near San Diego, has in recent years seen a flood of refugees from Iraq, including thousands of Chaldeans like himself. Chaldeans, who represent an ancient branch of Catholicism that dates to the Middle Ages, are a minority religion in Iraq, and have long been persecuted—especially since 2014 by the militant radicals who describe themselves as the Islamic State.
Barka said he has become deeply involved in the refugee problem, and has been working, lobbying, and supporting efforts by the St. Peter Chaldean Catholic Diocese in suburban El Cajon, CA, to adopt Chaldeans and sponsor their immigration. At least 40,000 Iraqi immigrants live in Eastern San Diego County, which is home to the country’s second-largest Iraqi immigrant community, after Detroit. More than 13,000 Chaldeans have moved to Eastern San Diego County since the Iraq War began in 2003, according to the U.S. State Department.
As a biotech CEO and Iraqi immigrant, Barka said he sees pros and cons in the executive order that President Donald Trump signed to suspend immigration.
The order the president signed on January 27th suspends the admission of Syrian refugees indefinitely and all other refugees for 120 days, until “sufficient changes have been made” to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is “consistent with the national interest,” i.e. to vet them under presumably stricter standards.
The executive order also blocks immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries—Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen—for 90 days. Trump said the entire immigration system would be overhauled to screen out “radical Islamic terrorists” and to give priority to Christian refugees.
This is a good move, Barka said, because it makes sense for the United States to reconsider how refugees are being admitted. He said only a very small percentage of Christian refugees are permitted to emigrate from Syria. He contends that officials in Syria who are authorizing emigration are overwhelmingly Muslim, and claimed they grant far more exit visas to Muslim refugees. He embraced President Trump’s statement that the U.S. immigration system should give a preference to refugees on the basis of religious persecution, as that would open the door for more Chaldeans to come to the U.S.