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Yemeni mom overcomes travel ban to finally hold dying son

Shaima Swileh, center, stands with her husband Ali Hassan, second from left, after Swileh arrived at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. Swileh is the Yemeni mother who won her fight for a waiver from the Trump administration's travel ban that would allow her to go to California to see her dying 2-year-old son. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — After battling U.S. immigration authorities for more than a year for the right to enter the country and flying halfway around the world, a Yemeni mother finally got to hold her dying 2-year-old son.

A photograph released late Wednesday by Council on American-Islamic Relations shows Shaima Swileh cradling her son Abdullah at a hospital in Oakland where he is on life support.

Swileh arrived at San Francisco International Airport on Wednesday night after the advocacy group sued the U.S. to grant her waiver from the Trump administration’s travel ban. She got a visa after a 17-month legal fight.

Swileh, wearing dark glasses and a white headscarf, was mobbed by friends and reporters at the airport.

“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, asking for privacy.

The couple was driven to see their son at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, where Hassan brought Abdullah in the fall to get treatment for a genetic brain disorder.

Hassan, a U.S. citizen who lives in Stockton, and Swileh moved to Egypt after marrying in war-torn Yemen in 2016 and had been trying to get a visa for Swileh since 2017 so the family could move to California.

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

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

“My wife is calling me every day wanting to kiss and hold her son for the one last time,” Hassan said, choking up at a news conference this week.

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

The State Department granted Swileh a waiver the next day.

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 that in general cases are handled individually, and U.S. officials try to facilitate legitimate travel to the United States while protecting national security.

“These are not easy questions,” Palladino 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.”

Immigration attorneys estimate tens of thousands of people have been affected by what they call blanket denials of visa applications under Trump’s travel ban, which the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 honoring 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.

In addition to the waiver, the government gave Swileh a visa that will allow her to remain in the United States with her husband and begin a path toward citizenship, Elkarra said.

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Associated Press Writer Julie Watson reported from San Diego

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  • It is beyond belief that the Godly Trump’s government had to be sued before they would let this lady come to see her dying son. The Godly Trump’s Godly Supporters and their God must be so so proud.

  • “But then a hospital social worker reached out to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which sued Monday, said Basim Elkarra, executive director of the group in Sacramento. The State Department granted Swileh a waiver the next day.”

    And 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.”

    And I say “horse pucky” to Mr. Palladino and his claims that foreign service officers all over the world “are trying very hard to do the right thing at all times.” I have absolutely so belief that the foreign service officers in Egypt finally acted to allow Swileh to come here based on their own initiative. Essentially the situation regarding her child has not changed for over a year – and they said “no” many times. They did not act until someone higher up got embarrassed by the publicity and told them to let her in. Their “do the right thing” is to say NO until someone higer up get embarrassed and tells them they to say “yes”

    It happened that way, didn’t it, Palladino?

    The final sentence of the article is the real kicker: “In addition to the waiver, the government gave Swileh a visa that will allow her to remain in the United States with her husband and begin a path toward citizenship, Elkarra said.” Should we believe that on the same day the Council on American-Islamic Relations sued and the publicity went all over the news world, the government got the last piece of information needed to actually make the decision to not just allow her to come on a short term humanitarian visit, but to also allowed to stay with her husband and seek citizenship? Miracle of miracles, so the next day all road blocks had been cleared, finally all the investigation was completed, and “of course” she could come to the U.S. to see her dying son.

    Horse pucky, Mr. Palladino.

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