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Family's Syrian relatives denied entry expected in New York

Written by Ron Todt/The Associated Press | Feb 6, 2017 2:07 AM
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Allie Bauer, of Philadelphia, leans against a wall while listening to a Black Lives Matter sit-in during a protest of President Donald Trump's executive order banning travel to the U.S. by citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017, at Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Corey Perrine)

(Philadelphia) -- Attorneys for a Pennsylvania family whose six Syrian relatives were denied entry to the United States at Philadelphia International Airport more than a week ago says the relatives are expected to arrive Monday in New York.

Immigration attorney Jonathan Grode said Sunday evening that the two Syrian families have already been admitted to the country at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection pre-clearance center in Abu Dhabi.

"They're over the moon. We had a conference call with them, and they say 'We can't wait to come to America,'" Grode said.

He said their Allentown relatives, Dr. Ghassan Assali and his wife, Sarmad, are "ecstatic" and plan to be on hand to meet them when they arrive Monday morning at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

"Everyone's happy. Tt's been a really long week," Grode said.

Attorneys said Dr. Assali's brothers, their wives and their two teenage children returned to Syria after they were denied entrance to the United States on Jan. 28 although they had visas in hand after a 13-year effort.

Large demonstrations across the country followed Trump's executive order to suspend America's refugee program and halt immigration to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries that the U.S. says raise terrorism concerns. The U.S. government on Saturday suspended enforcement of the ban a day after a federal judge in Washington state temporarily blocked it.

Dr. Assali and his brothers started the process for federal approval for entry in 2003 for Basam and Hassan Assali, their wives, Jozfin and Jurfeet, and Hassan's two children, and they received final clearance on December 19, 2016.

Grode and the American Civil Liberties Union officials credited the assistance of Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., and he also cited other Pennsylvania officials who he said acted in a bipartisan manner in their efforts to help the family. Grode said he also wanted to give credit to the many people who protested and to the Trump administration for complying with the orders from the federal courts "which is really important to the health and long-term stability of the country in a time of tumult."

"This is actually democracy," he said. "Although it's a scary and troubling time for immigrants and the clients that I represent, it's good to see that the foundations of freedom of speech and the rule of law are intact," he said.

Gov. Tom Wolf, who met with the Assali family a week ago, said he and his wife were "thrilled and relieved" by the news, calling the action that denied the families entry "short-sighted and unfair."

Sarmad Assali thanked supporters for their help "during this difficult and uncertain time."

"Words cannot express our gratitude," she said in the ACLU statement.

ACLU attorneys said they are continuing to represent Fatemeh Sheikhi, who returned to Iran after she also was denied entry Jan. 28 in Philadelphia. The retired teacher had planned to visit her two daughters, who are doctoral students studying in the United States on single-entry visas that don't allow back-and-forth trips between the U.S. and Iran.

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