On each step of their journey from northwestern China to Northern Virginia, the family believed they would be stopped. They were used to being followed. They expected to be tracked.
So it goes in Xinjiang, where the Chinese government has targeted Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims, turning a vast region into a laboratory for mass surveillance and building a network of internment camps.
Not many Uighurs escape the checkpoints and security cameras. Fewer still make it all the way to the United States.
But Zumrat Dawut, her husband, Imran Muhammad, and their three children got out. Dawut, who survived internment and an unwanted sterilization, fled first with her family to her husband’s native Pakistan. The next leg of their journey took them to a basement apartment in Virginia outside Washington.
They spent their first American summer strolling through shopping malls and savoring Popeyes’ halal fried chicken. “Here in U.S., people have human rights. People live like real human beings,” Dawut said.
They have applied for asylum in the United States. They want, desperately, to stay.
But their case — which recently caught the attention of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — raises tough questions for the Trump administration as it vows to take a harder line on China while simultaneously seeking a trade deal with Beijing.