After months of legal challenges, conference calls with doctors and hours aboard a plane, a Yemeni mother has finally arrived in California to reunite with her dying son.
Shaima Swileh, whose 2-year-old is on life support in an Oakland hospital, had been restricted from traveling to the United States under the White House travel ban until the US State Department granted her a travel waiver earlier this week.
After greeting her husband Wednesday night, Swileh was quickly surrounded by dozens of relatives, supporters and reporters awaiting her arrival at the San Francisco International Airport from Egypt.
“This is a difficult time for our family but we are blessed to be together. I ask you to respect our privacy as we go to be with our son again,” her husband and the boy’s father, Ali Hassan, told reporters on behalf of the family.
“The Muslim ban has hurt Yemen-American families and needs to end,” he added.
The couple then traveled about 22 miles to the University of California San Francisco’s Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland to be with their son.
Mother waited for waiver for more than a year
Swileh spent over a year trying to get a waiver that would let her join Hassan and their son, Abdullah, as they sought medical care in the US, the family’s attorneys said.
Hassan and Abdullah are American citizens and were able to leave Egypt for the US in October but the ban restricts Yemeni nationals like Swileh from entering the country.
The couple’s only child suffers from genetic brain condition that worsened over time, leading doctors to place him on a ventilator as the family pleaded consular officials to expedite Swileh’s visa application so she could see her son.
Doctors have told Hassan that patients like his son are usually on life support for two or three weeks, or a month at most. Abdullah has been on a ventilator at the Children’s Hospital for more than a month.
The President’s travel ban, which has been touted as a way to thwart terrorists’ entry into the United States, has drawn legal challenges. But the executive order still restricts citizens of Yemen and six other countries from entering the country.
According to the State Department, consul officers can make exceptions to the travel restriction when a visa’s “issuance is in the national interest, the applicant poses no national security or public safety threat to the United States, and denial of the visa would cause undue hardship.”
Attorney Banan Al-Akhras, with the Nimer Law firm that represents the family, said Swileh was told she would be considered for a waiver over a year ago.
Since then, the family reached out to the US Embassy in Cairo 28 times but only received automated responses, Al-Akhras said.
“The reality is that the waiver process is a sham,” she said. “There’s no transparency, no meaningful process and no oversight. The fact that they ultimately approved her shows that there was no issue with her case to begin with and that she should have been approved months ago.”
“Let’s be clear, issuance of her visa this week is not an act of kindness on their part.”
After a waiver was granted, Swileh traveled to the United States on an I-130 visa, which allows close relatives of American citizens to enter the country, according to Basim Elkarra, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Sacramento Valley chapter.