Laurel Hilbert arrived in the United States in August of 2013 as a blind, homeless 17-year-old named Ahmad. His birthplace — Deir al-Zour, in Syria — was in the process of being destroyed by war. He landed in Los Angeles without knowing a single person in the United States, without speaking a word of English and without being able to see.
Almost four years later, three of which were spent living homeless in Los Angeles and New York, he now has a new name, a job, a green card, a guide dog named Aero and a new life as a college student in San Francisco.
In January of 2017, his family, in Istanbul, finally received the visas they applied for in 2014. On the same day the visas arrived, President Trump signed his executive order on immigration, indefinitely suspending the admission of all refugees and immigrants from Syria. An email from the consulate informed Laurel’s family that their visas were no longer valid and officials at the airport in Turkey would not let them through security.
A little more than a week later, judges blocked Trump's order. On February 5th, Laurel's six family members arrived at Kennedy Airport in New York. What the family has gone through has not changed Laurel's opinion of his adopted country as a place full of people who are willing to help, if only you ask. When he has gone to protest immigration issues, it has been with appreciation for the rights he has not always enjoyed. “This country is not brutal. It’s not perverse. It’s not regressive. It’s not insular. This country is the place for all those who are hopeful or want to better their lives,” Laurel says. “My opinion never changed about America or the American people.”
In 2018, Hilbert started a non-profit called, A Dignified Home. They find shelter and aid for at risk youth.