A Syrian family denied entry into Philadelphia hours after President Donald Trump’s executive order suspending America’s refugee program and halting immigration to the U.S. from seven countries has made the journey to the United States, after a federal judge temporarily blocked Trump’s executive order.
Six members of the Asali family left Syria and passed through preclearance in Abu Dhabi Sunday, arriving at JFK International Airport in New York Monday ahead of a 9:25 a.m. arrival time, their attorneys said.
They arrived to hugs from family and supporters.
"I'm very happy to help," said U.S. Rep Charlie Dent, R-Pa, as he greeted the Asalis Monday. "We have a very large Syrian community in the Allentown area, I've gotten to know many of them over the years."
Dent helped with the negotiations that allowed the family to leave, according to a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
"We are grateful for Congressman Dent’s leadership and his efforts to right this wrong for the Asalis," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "The executive order is illegal, and its implementation was botched from the start. The ACLU will continue to challenge this order until it is ultimately overturned."
The Asalis, a Christian family with relatives in Allentown, waited more than a week to leave Damascus for Pennsylvania. Despite having obtained visas and passports prior to their departure, the six relatives were deported upon arriving in Philadelphia International Airport just hours after Trump issued the travel ban.
Almost immediately, the Asalis became entangled in a messy legal battle between the White House and its opponents. On Saturday, the government officially suspended the ban's enforcement in compliance with the order of U.S. District Judge James Robart.
After the temporary block was issued, visa holders from the countries impacted by Trump’s order hurried to board U.S.-bound flights, fearing they might have only a slim window through which to enter the country.
"I thought at first, not realizing what was happening at that moment, that it was just people delayed and they would be detained and we could just sort through it," Dent said. "By the time we finally started figured things out the family had already been returned... so we've been working on it ever since."
The legal battle continues as the Department of Justice filed a notice of appeal in an attempt to immediately reinstate Trump’s order.
Despite the legal quagmire, lawyers for the Asali family did not anticipate the appeal will directly impact travel arrangements.
“You never want to say for sure, but I think we should be fine,” said Joseph Hohenstein, an attorney for the Asali family
A federal appeals court denied a request to reinstate Trump’s order early Sunday.
The Asalis' relatives in Allentown described long days filled with uncertainty, confusion and heartache.
“We are very excited, but very nervous at the same time,” Sarmad Assali said before they arrived. “Until we have them in our arms, I’m a little on edge.”
She added, "We can hear it in their voice that they're so afraid that something might go wrong."
The last names of the family members living in Allentown are spelled differently due to a name change at the time of their immigration into the U.S., a spokesman for the ACLU said.
The relatives — four adults and two children — planned to settle in Allentown, 60 miles outside of Philadelphia, where family members who are U.S. citizens had purchased a home for them. It took the family 13 years to secure visas and passports to relocate to the U.S.
After arriving at the Philadelphia International Airport last Saturday, the Asali family was met by two U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials. The six were removed from the plane, detained and told they could either leave the U.S. on the same plane or stay and be arrested, according to court documents.
Their legal paperwork was physically revoked, they were denied phone calls and they were prevented from speaking to relatives waiting at the airport. They were sent back to Syria that same day.
Immigration lawyers representing the family filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday, accusing the Trump administration of violating several constitutional guarantees, including those belonging to members of a protected class and the right to due process.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said he and his wife are "thrilled and relieved" the family will be able to return to the United States.
"The federal government barring these legal immigrants from living in Pennsylvania, despite doing everything the right way, was short-sighted and unfair," he wrote.
"We look forward to welcoming these families back to Pennsylvania. Our commonwealth, which was founded by immigrants escaping persecution, has always welcomed people from all over the world to share in realizing the American dream.”