Yemeni mother arrives in US to see dying son for last time

'This will allow us to mourn with dignity,' boy's father says

Samuel Osborne
Thursday 20 December 2018 13:48
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Yemeni mother Shaima Swileh arrives at San Francisco International Airport to see dying son for last time

A Yemeni mother who fought to go to the United States to see her dying son has arrived in California after Donald Trump’s administration eventually waived its travel ban for her.

Shaima Swileh arrived at San Francisco International Airport on Wednesday night, where she was surrounded by well-wishers.

“This is a difficult time for our family but we are blessed to be together,” the boy’s father, Ali Hassan, said at the airport. “I ask you to respect our privacy as we go to be with our son again.”

Ms Swileh and Mr Hassan were then driven to see their 2-year-old son, Abdullah, at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland.

Citizens from Yemen and four other majority Muslim countries, along with North Korea and Venezuela, are restricted from coming to the United States under the travel ban enacted under President Trump.

The State Department granted Ms Swileh a waiver on Tuesday, after lawyers with the Council on American-Islamic Relations sued earlier this week, ending her family’s yearlong battle.

“This will allow us to mourn with dignity,” the boy’s father had said in an earlier statement.

Mr Hassan, who is a US citizen and resident of Stockton, California, but who had been living in Egypt, brought Abdullah to California in autumn this year to get treatment for a genetic brain disorder.

“My wife is calling me every day wanting to kiss and hold her son for the one last time,” Mr Hassan said, choking up as he made a public plea at a news conference on Monday, a day before the government granted the visa.

Abdullah Hassan is on life support at a hospital in California (CAIR )

The couple moved to Egypt after marrying in war-torn Yemen in 2016 and had been trying to get a visa for Ms Swileh since 2017 so the family could move to California.

When the boy’s health worsened, Mr Hassan went ahead to California in October to get their help for their son. As the couple fought for a waiver, doctors put Abdullah on life support.

“I am emailing them, crying, and telling them that my son is dying,” Mr Hassan said in an interview with The Sacramento Bee newspaper.

He started losing hope and was considering pulling his son off life support to end his suffering, but a hospital social worker reached out to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which sued on Monday, according to Basim Elkarra, executive director of the group in Sacramento.

Ms Swileh lost months with her child over what amounted to unnecessary delays and red tape, Mr Elkarra said.

Fathers pleas for Yemeni mother to receive visa to see dying toddler

State Department spokesman Robert Palladino called it “a very sad case, and our thoughts go out to this family at this time, at this trying time”.

He said he could not comment on the family’s situation but said in general cases are handled individually, and US officials try to facilitate legitimate travel to the US while protecting national security.

“These are not easy questions,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of foreign service officers deployed all over the world that are making these decisions on a daily basis, and they are trying very hard to do the right thing at all times.”

Shaima Swileh (centre with her back turned) is greeted by supporters after arriving at San Francisco International Airport

Immigration attorneys estimate tens of thousands of people have been affected by what they call blanket denials of visa applications under Mr Trump’s travel ban, which the US Supreme Court upheld in a 5-4 ruling in June.

The waiver provision allows a case-by-case exemption for people who can show entry to the US is in the national interest, is needed to prevent undue hardship and would not pose a security risk.

But a lawsuit filed in San Francisco says the administration is not honouring the waiver provision. The 36 plaintiffs include people who have had waiver applications denied or stalled despite chronic medical conditions, prolonged family separations or significant business interests.

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”We hope this case makes the administration realise the waiver process is not working,” Mr Elkarra said. “Thousands of families have been split apart, including families who have loved ones who are ill and are not able to see them in their final hours. I’m sure there are more cases like this.”

In addition to the waiver, the government gave Ms Swileh a visa that will allow her to remain in the US with her husband and begin a path towards US citizenship, Mr Elkarra added.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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