President Donald Trump’s controversial executive order that bars refugees and immigrants from 7 different Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States hit a little too close to home for one Temple biology student this weekend. Joey Assali waited at home to greet his Syrian family on Saturday morning, they should have arrived in Allentown, PA to start their new life in the U.S.A. early that day. They never arrived and he’d only find out why hours later.
The Abou-Asali family began the process to apply for their visas and green-cards (the nickname for the document that makes a person a lawful permanent resident able to live and work in the U.S.) in 2003. They hoped to be able to move from Syria to the United States to live in Allentown with their extended family, the Assali’s. 13 years later, the Syrian family had fully approved and paid visas and immigration documents and finally landed at what they thought would be their final destination at 7:45 a.m. They flew into the Philadelphia International Airport on Qatar Airways.
They thought they were going to see their extended family in Allentown but would never leave the airport that morning. The family was not allowed past customs and were denied access to a phone to update the Assali’s in Allentown about what was happening. Without access to a wifi connection, the Abou-Asali’s could not make calls from their personal devices since they did not have international calling yet.
Ghassn Assali was waiting at the airport when he received a phone call from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection official who told him not to wait on the platform since the family would soon be sent back on a plane to Qatar.
The family was detained for little over 3 hours and then put on a plane at 11 a.m. for what would be their second 18-hour flight that weekend. Their visas were soon cancelled and destroyed.
“To have them ripped up in front of you like that, it’s like 13 years and tens of thousands of dollars down the drain,” said Joey Assali. “And knowing that there’s no choice to come back now, you know, you’re stuck.”
The Assali’s of Allentown worked with several lawyers and government officials most of Saturday to map out what their next steps should be. Soon after, they joined the protests at PHL that Sunday and Joey was taken aback by the amount of support he saw there.
“It’s honestly mind-blowing.” said Joey Assali. “It’s so heartwarming to know that people came out by the thousands to support not only my family but families in our situation, people that have no relation to the Middle East, to these countries affected just to show their support….to know that people stand with us.”
An emergency order from Federal Judge Ann M. Donnelly in New York was later passed on Saturday that barred deportations under the executive order, however, it didn’t provide directives for the detainments of the affected families traveling to the United States.
The U.S. Customs & Border Protection website now says that green-card holders or lawful permanent residents can be affected by the executive order if they were out of the country or traveling out of the country after the order was signed, but that they are eligible for national interest waivers. As of January 30 at 3 p.m., 1,059 green-card holders were granted a waiver and 75 visa-holders were granted a waiver under the provisions of the executive action.
The Assali’s have since started to work with Mayor Jim Kenney, Congressman Charlie Dent of Allentown and Governor Tom Wolf to gain support for their cause and possible legal help in getting their extended family back to the United States.