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Three Men Who Had to Abandon Their White-Collar Careers to Come to America

For those who risk it, going from a lawyer’s office to the driver’s seat of a taxi is a sad, yet hopeful journey

Immigrants: They get the job done. But is it the job they initially trained for? In a lot of cases, probably not. If you wonder what your Lyft driver was doing before he risked everything to come here and ferry your drunk ass around — and more importantly, why he did it — read on.

Tariq, Taxi Driver

I was a civil engineer in Baghdad. There are lots of kinds of civil engineers: Bridges, infrastructure, buildings, etc. I was in building construction. I studied for four years at the University of Baghdad.

When I moved here 15 years ago, I tried to get an engineering job, but everyone told me I needed to study some more, or get licenses for it. Unfortunately, I have a family and needed to make money. Also, the materials are different here: In Iraq, there’s mostly concrete reinforcements; here there’s wood, etc. I miss it — I still have the experience to be an engineer, but I think it’s too late. I have no choice: I have to make a living.

Some of my friends told me I’d find a lot of work as a taxi driver. It was a good business for a while, but now it’s terrible. For 10 years it was good, but then because of Uber, it’s terrible. I’d like to do something different, but I’m old, not young.

I left before the Iraq War. It took a long time to get my immigration visa: Thirteen years. I came here because I wanted a different life. I’m happy here, and this is a good country to live in — there’s safety, there’s freedom, life is different. There is law!

A lot of taxi drivers in California have good educations, like me, because there isn’t a lot of opportunity here. But, that’s life.

Yousif, Liquor Store Employee

I was an accountant in Iraq — I did it for 22 years there. But I don’t miss it at all. You know Saddam Hussein, right? I’m Chaldean, and there, Christians are second-class citizens. I didn’t feel unsafe personally, but others did.

When I got here in 1984, I didn’t try to become an accountant — there was the language, the certifications, all the things you have to learn — so I started out working with my brother in stock rooms in Detroit. Eventually, I moved to California and became part owner of this store.

I have a nice life here, without working in accounting. But that’s what my son is doing — he graduated college here and is becoming an accountant himself.

Danny, Lyft Driver

I’m from Syria, where I was a business attorney — also in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. I did consulting, made business entities, subsidiaries and corporations and gave advice.

I left Syria because of the war. It was horrible — I can still hear the ringing in my ears from the bombs and explosions. To this day, business there is bad. People there live on $20 or $30 a month that outside people — people that ran away — send. My situation is different than that of refugees, because my parents came here to give birth to me and went straight back to Syria, so I’m a U.S. citizen. I used to come here in the summertime as a kid. If I wasn’t a citizen, I couldn’t come: Obama accepted 10,000 Syrian refugees, but the current administration closed the borders.

I came here because America is the number one country in the world. You can make it here — you don’t have to inherit the money. People who work can make it. I’m a workaholic myself.

I first came to Kansas City and delivered pizzas for Pizza Hut. It was horrible: The weather — and the people, because I’m Middle Eastern. One guy I worked with came to my house and tried to shoot me. I think he was on meth. I talked him out of it. Next, my wife, child and I went to Denver, and I was surprised how completely different two neighboring states are. I was a production supervisor there, but the company I worked at had a lot of bad things going on with their employees. When they didn’t make the changes I suggested in my reports, I figured I had to leave.

One of the things that’s so great about California is they give international lawyers the opportunity to take a master’s degree and sit for the bar. A law school out here gave me a scholarship, which is how I ended up in California. So instead of three years of law school, I did it in one, because I already have my bachelor of law from Syria. I believe four other states do this, too. So I’m driving for Lyft until I can save up some money to take the bar. Sitting in school for a year, I was spending from my savings, and now I don’t have any more savings to pay for rent and all of that. I’m looking forward to getting back into law, but first things first.

I miss Syria every second. It’s my home. Over there, you aren’t a number, you’re someone, the son of someone. Everybody knows you — as soon as you walk out on the street, you’re saying hi to everyone. But there’s good and bad to that. I plan to go back when I can, because I feel I have responsibility toward the people: I was blessed to come here, I was blessed with education, I was blessed with the English language. I try to help — when I first moved to Lebanon I was volunteering with the U.N. at two refugee camps there.

Here, I appreciate the rule of law. It’s absent in the whole Middle East. For example, if you’re part of one sect or religion, you can do whatever you want. And if you know people, if you have connections, you can do whatever you want. Here, nobody’s above the law. Just look at the current administration and how many lawsuits have been filed against them! In the Middle East, because some people cannot go through the law, they have their own retaliation: Violence. Killing. Stealing. Vengeance.

I’m intrigued with family law here. I’m not an advocate of divorce — I’d like to try to put the two heads together, it’s better than trying to pursue divorce. So I think I can benefit society.