Yemeni mom overcomes travel ban to hold dying son
San Francisco – 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.
Associated Press Writer Julie Watson reported from San Diego.