Via - San Francisco Chronicle
The Yemeni mother of a 2-year-old boy on life support in an Oakland hospital is being prevented from coming to the country to say goodbye to her son by the Trump administration ban on travel from certain Muslim countries, the child’s family says.
Abdullah Hassan was born in Yemen with a rare brain disease that initially affected his ability to walk and talk but quickly worsened. He is no longer able to breathe on his own. His father, a U.S. citizen who lives in Stockton, brought him to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland for care about five months ago, and Abdullah is not expected to live much longer.
The parents are ready to take Abdullah off life support, but they want his mother to have one more moment to hold him. So far, the U.S. State Department has ignored their pleas for a waiver to get her into the United States, they say.
“All she wishes is to hold his hand for the last time,” Abdullah’s father, Ali Hassan, 22, said in an interview Sunday. “If I could take him off the ventilator and to the airplane, I would take him to her. I would let her see him. But he won’t make it.”
The State Department said in an email Sunday that it could not comment on the details of specific cases.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations will hold a news conference in Sacramento with Hassan on Monday morning to draw attention to the family’s plight. The group says it has filed a formal letter with the State Department and with the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, where Hassan’s wife, Shaima Swileh, is currently living, demanding that the government expedite the mother’s request for a visa.
Trump introduced his travel ban on majority-Muslim countries days after taking office in January 2017. The order faced multiple challenges before the most recent version was upheld by the Supreme Court this summer. It forbids travel to the United States by citizens of five majority-Muslim countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
Travelers from those countries can request waivers from the ban, but so far exemptions have been rare. Saad Sweilem, a civil rights attorney with the American-Islamic council, said he believes only about 2 percent of requested waivers have been granted.
Hassan said every time he reaches out to the State Department to ask about the status of his wife’s visa, he receives an automated response that states her application is being processed. This back-and-forth has been going on for a year, he said. And they are running out of time.
“It’s really urgent,” said Hassan’s father, Fawzi Hassan, 41. “She’s crying every day, ‘Please help me get to my son.’ We need her to see her son one last time. To hold him for at least a minute. She’s not going to see him forever.
“If he dies and we bury him without his mom seeing him, that will be a disaster.”
Ali Hassan said his wife is distraught over being separated from her son as he is dying. When she agreed to let Hassan take him to the United States for medical care, she never thought that would be the last time she saw him, he said. Neither of them knew then that his condition would be fatal.
Abdullah has a form of hypomyelination, a disease that prevents formation of the fatty tissue that surrounds nerve cells and helps them communicate with one another. Not all cases of hypomyelination are fatal, but in Abdullah’s case, the effect is severe enough that it is now interfering with his ability to breathe. He’s been on a ventilator for about a month, Hassan said.
Hassan’s family came to the United States from Yemen in the early 1980s, when his grandparents moved to California and eventually settled in Stockton. Since then, the family has maintained close ties with Yemen. Hassan’s father met his future wife there, and five of their seven children, including Ali, were born in Yemen.
Ali Hassan moved to Stockton about a decade ago, when he was in middle school. He too met his future wife in Yemen. He wasn’t there for Abdullah’s birth, but lived with them for about six months not long after.
It wasn’t immediately obvious to the new parents that anything was wrong with Abdullah, but then he started missing obvious developmental milestones. His body was floppy. Though he was a happy baby, easy to make laugh, he wasn’t gaining weight as he should.
Yemen has been in a brutal civil war for the past four years. Thousands of civilians have been killed, and tens of thousands more are facing starvation. The United Nations has referred to the war as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Hassan said Swileh was terrified during her pregnancy of the air strikes that came at night, of the bombings that hit nearby nearly every day. The plan was always to move her and the baby to Stockton. But as Abdullah’s condition worsened, they knew he needed better care, and a safer home, than was available in Yemen.
So Swileh took 8-month-old Abdullah to Cairo. Hassan met them there, and quickly got U.S. citizenship and a passport for the baby. They started the process of getting a visa for Swileh at the same time, around August 2017. She had an interview at the U.S. Embassy and was told to wait for confirmation that her application had been accepted.
A month passed, and Hassan called to ask about the visa. He was told the application was still being processed. Another month passed, and then another. Hassan and Swileh were becoming increasingly concerned as Abdullah’s condition deteriorated.
Then they got a letter from the U.S. Embassy: Swileh’s request for a visa was being denied, “pursuant to Presidential Proclamation 9645” — the travel ban.
The letter explained that her request for a waiver was already being processed. They waited some more, but Hassan was beginning to realize he would need to take his son to the United States without the boy’s mother. He left with Abdullah in August.
“He was suffering more and more,” Hassan said. “I wanted to bring them both together, but since I couldn’t bring my wife — it’s hard for me to see my son suffering in Cairo. So I had to do what I had to do.”
Sweilem, with the American-Islamic council, said though the Hassan family’s case is extreme, it’s emblematic of the burden that the travel ban has placed on Muslim families across the country.
“The Muslim ban — these are the effects of it,” Sweilem said. “There are other cases where families are being separated just like this, but they might not have some sympathetic fact that is this severe, like a child who is about to die.”
Hassan drives from Stockton to be with his son every day. Saturday was Abdullah’s second birthday, and Hassan took a photo with him, kissing his forehead and holding his hand. He sends videos to Swileh almost every day, though Abdullah no longer smiles or opens his eyes for them.
Fawzi Hassan said that at this point, their urgency in bringing his daughter-in-law to the United States is not for Abdullah, who is unconscious and will not wake up again. It’s Swileh he worries about, as well as Ali Hassan.
“The child, he is between God’s hands. God is the creator, and he’s the one who will let him go or let him stay,” Fawzi Hassan said. “But when I see my son suffering over this, it hurts even more. And what can we do about it? What crime did the child commit to be banned from his mom?”
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the date President Trump took office.