Governor Tom Wolf condemns Trump's travel ban order

Written by Staff Report/WHYY and The Associated Press | Jan 30, 2017 5:11 AM

Governor Tom Wolf in Philadelphia (Photo courtesy of PA Internet News Service).

(Philadelphia) -- As protests continued and Pennsylvania officials condemned President Donald Trump's travel ban on refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations, advocates said several people detained after arrival at Philadelphia International Airport were being released.

A New York judge's order cleared the way for three people detained overnight to continue to other U.S. destinations Sunday, while another person was allowed to leave Saturday night with relatives who are U.S. citizens, said Mary Catherine Roper of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. Mayor Jim Kenney said new arriving passengers "will be treated the same as they would have been prior to the executive order."

Roper said her organization had no idea how many people who were denied entry simply went back out of fear of the consequences of not doing so.

An Allentown family says that's exactly what happened to their Syrian relatives on Saturday. They stood the next day with Gov. Tom Wolf, who said he's "outraged" and called it "a dark day for all of us."

"I don't think he thought this through," Wolf said Sunday, referring to the president.

Wolf stood outside the offices of lawyers aiding Dr. Ghassan Assali and his wife, Sarmad. Assali said his brothers, their wives, and their two teenage children were denied entrance Saturday although they had visas in hand after a 13-year effort.

Wolf says he's outraged with the president's move and what happened to six immigrants who had obtained family visas but were held at the Philadelphia International Airport and sent back to Syria over the weekend.

"This is not who we are, Pennsylvania is a place of welcome, the United States was set up to be a place where people could escape oppression." he said. "This is not a place where people come to experience oppression, and that's what their family members experienced."

Attorney Jonathan Grode said what happened upon the families' arrival was unclear, but their visas were canceled and they elected to board another flight back to Qatar and then to return to Syria. He said it was unclear whether they would have to start over the long visa process.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro said he and 16 other attorneys general consider the presidential action "unconstitutional, un-American and unlawful."

"(We) will use all of the tools of our offices to fight this unconstitutional order and preserve our nation's national security and core values," he said in a statement.

Sarmad Assali, who said she had lived in Allentown since 1978, said her brothers-in-law and their families, all Orthodox Christians, are back in Damascus and safe for the moment. But they're "very tired, exhausted, frustrated, angry" after two back-to-back 18-hour flights.

"I am heartbroken because they had to be sent back to the war zone," she said. "We've done everything by the book and by the rules."

She said she's grateful for the outpouring of support "because I don't know what to do at this point."

Hundreds of protesters gathered Sunday afternoon at Philadelphia International Airport, waving signs and chanting "Let them in!" and other slogans Sunday afternoon. Protests also erupted at the airport Saturday over Trump and the travel ban.

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