Longtime US residents, aspiring citizens caught up in ban
LOS ANGELES: A woman traveling to Indiana to care for her cancer-stricken mother, a family physician who has lived in the US for two decades, and a Minneapolis woman about to become a US citizen were among those caught in the net cast by President Donald Trump when he banned travelers from entering the country from Muslim-majority nations.
Here are their stories:
Sahar Algonaimi, a 58-year-old Syrian woman coming to the US to care for her cancer-stricken mother was put on a plane Saturday and sent back to Saudi Arabia hours after arriving at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.
When her 76-year-old mother became ill, Algonaimi's sister, Nour Ulayyet, asked her to come to their home in Valparaiso, Indiana, to help take care of her. Their mother underwent a mastectomy Friday.
Algonaimi had visited just last year and still had a US visa good until June 2018.
After texting to say her plane had touched down, she never arrived at the gate. A man identifying himself as an immigration officer eventually called Ulayyet to say her sister was being put aboard a flight back to Saudi Arabia, where she teaches school.
"I asked if I could speak to a supervisor," Ulayyet said. "He was very nice, very sympathetic, but he said, 'Literally for me to help I'm going to be breaking the law and I'm not going to break the law.'"
Before Algonaimi left officials had her sign paperwork that she told her sister she didn't understand. It canceled her visa.
"I really can't put it in words how much sadness I feel and the sense of injustice we feel," Ulayyet said Sunday as she choked up.
Dr. Sarwa Aldoori, a family physician from Bakersfield, California, was returning home Saturday from an eight-day religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia when she was startled to be pulled aside from the rest of her group.
"Everything was OK until I got to the customs checking point and my colleagues and friends went through and the guy looked at my passport and eyed me and he said step aside," Aldoori said Sunday, her voice shaking as she tearfully described the ordeal.
She was released and reunited with her husband after nine hours.
Aldoori, a legal permanent resident of the US, said she made a similar pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia last year "a very special visit in the life of every Muslim" without incident.
As she cried and asked to know why she couldn't leave the airport this time, the doctor, who has lived in the United States since 1996, said an officer finally told her, "It's because you were born in Iraq."
"I looked at him and I said, 'You know, I am 62 years old. What did I do wrong?' He didn't say anything, he just looked at the floor and said have a seat."
Although angry and shaken, she said she still plans to become a US citizen someday.
"I'm not going to let something like that stop me," she said defiantly. "We used to have decent people in government and now we don't."
Fateme Farmad was returning from Iran to her Minneapolis home with her 11-month-old son when she was detained and questioned for more than 12 hours at Los Angeles International Airport.
Farmad and her family had traveled to Iran last month to visit relatives. Her husband, Masoud Samet, returned to the US for work on Jan. 6 while she and other family members stayed for a wedding.
When the group returned Saturday, her brother, a US citizen, was immediately allowed back in. She, her son and her mother were detained.
"They are OK, but they are very tired and the situation was unexpected and very horrible," said her husband.
Attorneys who filed legal action demanding Farmad's release accused officials at the airport of attempting to coerce her into signing papers relinquishing her permanent resident status.
Farmad, who has lived in the United States for five years, is scheduled to take her oath of citizenship on Feb. 13.
Nazanin Zinouri had only been in Iran a couple of days for a family visit when she began to hear rumors that citizens of Muslim-majority nations would be banned from returning to the United States.
The US resident of nearly seven years tried to return home immediately but flights were delayed in Tehran by heavy snow. She'd only gotten as far as Dubai when the ban went into effect and authorities refused to let her board a plane to the United States.
She said by phone Sunday she's been spending her time following the news and worrying about her rescue dog, Dexter, her home, her car and her job. She works for a technology firm in South Carolina.
"What's going to happen to my dog? My dog is sick. Is anyone going to adopt him?" she asked. "Am I going to lose my job forever?"
Zinouri, 29, has a master's degree from Northern Illinois University and a Ph.D. from Clemson University.
She had gone to Iran to see her mother, brother and sister.
Abdollah Mostafavi was traveling to San Francisco for hip replacement surgery when the 80-year-old green-card holder was suddenly stopped at San Francisco International Airport.
Mostafavi, who has relatives in Canada and the US, splits his time between those countries and his native Iran.
When he was finally released after six hours Saturday his 8-year-old grandson ran to hug him as his 46-year-old daughter fought back tears.
"I'm worried sick," his daughter, Mozhgan Mostafavi, had told the AP as she waited at the airport for him. "I don't know any Iranians who have been in a terrorist attack. It's so dehumanizing. It's so insulting. I grew up during the Revolution in Iran and I feel that same suffocation. It's hard to breathe."
She said Sunday her father told her he'd been held for hours in a room with about 15 other Iranians.
"He said it seemed they had the order to detain them but had no idea what to do next," she said.
An Iraqi immigrant couple who arrived in Maine with two daughters just days before citizens of Muslim-majority nations were banned from entering the country are awaiting word on the fate of their oldest daughter, who didn't get out in time.
Labed Alalhanfy, his wife, Soso, and their 13- and 19-year-old daughters arrived in the United States from Baghdad on Tuesday.
Their 20-year-old daughter, Bananh, a student at the American University in Iraq, had planned to join them shortly.
"She is now very anxious and scared," said Alalhanfy.
He described his family as secular Muslims, which puts his daughter at some risk of remaining in Iraq without her family.
"The neighbors will start to notice. People will start questioning, especially because she is female. It is a critical situation," Alalhanfy said Saturday in an interview with the Portland Press Herald.