Longtime residents of the United States were not allowed to return to their U.S.-based homes following a ban on travelers from entering the country from Muslim-majority nations.
The temporary ban, enacted by President Trump, applies to citizens from seven countries. Trump signed the order Friday barring citizens from Syria, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Sudan and Somalia from entering the country for 90 days. He also suspended the admission of all refugees for 120 days.
Sahar Algonaimi, a 58-year-old Syrian woman coming to the U.S. to care for her cancer-stricken mother was put on a plane Saturday and sent back to Saudi Arabia hours after arriving at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
When her 76-year-old mother became ill, Algonaimi’s sister, Nour Ulayyet, asked her to come to their home in Valparaiso, Indiana, to help take care of her. Their mother underwent a mastectomy Friday.
Algonaimi had visited just last year and still had a U.S. visa good until June 2018.
After texting to say her plane had touched down, she never arrived at the gate. A man identifying himself as an immigration officer eventually called Ulayyet to say her sister was being put aboard a flight back to Saudi Arabia, where she teaches school.
“I asked if I could speak to a supervisor,” Ulayyet said. “He was very nice, very sympathetic, but he said, ‘Literally for me to help I’m going to be breaking the law and I’m not going to break the law.'”
Before Algonaimi left officials had her sign paperwork that she told her sister she didn’t understand. It canceled her visa.
“I really can’t put it in words how much sadness I feel and the sense of injustice we feel,” Ulayyet said Sunday as she choked up.
Dr. Sarwa Aldoori, a family physician from Bakersfield, California, was returning home Saturday from an eight-day religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia when she was startled to be pulled aside from the rest of her group.
“Everything was OK until I got to the customs checking point and my colleagues and friends went through and the guy looked at my passport and eyed me and he said step aside,” Aldoori said Sunday, her voice shaking as she tearfully described the ordeal.
She was released and reunited with her husband after nine hours.
Aldoori, a legal permanent resident of the U.S., said she made a similar pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia last year – “a very special visit in the life of every Muslim” – without incident.
As she cried and asked to know why she couldn’t leave the airport this time, the doctor, who has lived in the United States since 1996, said an officer finally told her, “It’s because you were born in Iraq.”
“I looked at him and I said, ‘You know, I am 62 years old. What did I do wrong?’ He didn’t say anything, he just looked at the floor and said have a seat.”
Although angry and shaken, she said she still plans to become a U.S. citizen someday.
“I’m not going to let something like that stop me,” she said defiantly. “We used to have decent people in government and now we don’t.”
Fateme Farmad was returning from Iran to her Minneapolis home with her 11-month-old son when she was detained and questioned for more than 12 hours at Los Angeles International Airport.
Farmad and her family had traveled to Iran last month to visit relatives. Her husband, Masoud Samet, returned to the U.S. for work on Jan. 6 while she and other family members stayed for a wedding.
When the group returned Saturday, her brother, a U.S. citizen, was immediately allowed back in. She, her son and her mother were detained.
“They are OK, but they are very tired and the situation was unexpected and very horrible,” said her husband.
Attorneys who filed legal action demanding Farmad’s release accused officials at the airport of attempting to coerce her into signing papers relinquishing her permanent resident status.
Farmad, who has lived in the United States for five years, is scheduled to take her oath of citizenship on Feb. 13.
Nazanin Zinouri had only been in Iran a couple of days for a family visit when she began to hear rumors that citizens of Muslim-majority nations would be banned from returning to the United States.
The U.S. resident of nearly seven years tried to return home immediately but flights were delayed in Tehran by heavy snow. She’d only gotten as far as Dubai when the ban went into effect and authorities refused to let her board a plane to the United States.
She said by phone Sunday she’s been spending her time following the news and worrying about her rescue dog, Dexter, her home, her car and her job. She works for a technology firm in South Carolina.
“What’s going to happen to my dog? My dog is sick. Is anyone going to adopt him?” she asked. “Am I going to lose my job forever?”
Zinouri, 29, has a master’s degree from Northern Illinois University and a Ph.D. from Clemson University.
She had gone to Iran to see her mother, brother and sister.