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Yemeni Mom Arrives In Bay Area, Heads To Visit Dying Son In Last Moments

OAKLAND (AP/CBS SF) -- A mother who has been stuck in Egypt under the Trump administration's travel ban arrived in the Bay Area Wednesday night for a final visit with her dying son.

Shaima Swileh is touched down at San Francisco International Airport around 7:30 p.m. All she wants is to give her son one more kiss before he dies.

The Yemeni woman got her wish after her family won their fight for a waiver from the Trump administration's travel ban so she can visit her 2-year-old son Abdullah Hassan at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in Oakland, where he has been on life support for the past month.


The State Department granted Swileh the waiver on Tuesday after lawyers with the Council on American-Islamic Relations sued this week, ending a year-long battle for the family.

"This will allow us to mourn with dignity," the boy's father, Ali Hassan, said in a statement provided by the Sacramento chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Hassan, who is a U.S. citizen and lives in Stockton, brought Abdullah to California in the fall 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," Hassan said, choking up as he made a public plea at a news conference Monday, a day before the government granted the visa.

The couple moved to Egypt after marrying in war-torn Yemen in 2016 and had been trying to get a visa for Swileh since 2017 so they could all 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, the father decided to go ahead to California in October to get their son help.

As Swileh and her husband fought for a waiver, doctors put Abdullah on life support.

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

After getting electronic responses, Hassan 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, which sued Monday, said Basim Elkarra of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Sacramento.

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

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 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," 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."

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.

"We hope this case makes the administration realize the waiver process is not working," 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."

Zahra Billoo, the Executive Director of the SF Bay Area branch of CAIR, said only two percent of waivers are granted to families impacted by the ban.

"It's not about the waiver here and now. It's about the thousands of people like Abdullah who are stuck separated from their families," said Billoo.

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 U.S. citizenship, Elkarra said.

KPIX 5 learned that there are three criteria to prove to State Department officials if someone impacted by the travel ban wants to get into the U.S.:

  1. That it would cause the individual undue harm if they were not given the waiver
  2. That the individual is not in any way a national security threat to the U.S.
  3. That it is in the U.S.'s national interest for the individual to be in the country

© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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