A Pennsylvania family is desperately trying to get their relatives back from Syria after they were detained at Philadelphia International Airport and sent back to the Middle East under the new immigration and travel ban instituted by President Donald Trump this weekend.
“I understand he wants to make America safe,” said Sarmad Assali, whose family members were all approved to join her in the United States and had green cards. “We’re all on with this. I definitely want to be in a safe place. But people need us and we need to be there for them.”
On Saturday, just hours after the order was signed, Assali’s family were detained and then turned back from the airport. “Two security guards were waiting for them,” Assali said. “They took them. They said, ‘Are you Syrians?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ They said, ‘Come with us.'”
All of Assali’s family members are Orthodox Christians, and Assali was shocked to find that in America, there was the kind of discrimination that her family had faced in Syria for their Christianity, though here it was for their country of origin.
“America is not America,” Assali said. “Like ISIS now, they ask, ‘Are you Christian? What do you believe?’ And if they are not saying what they believe, they kick you out and they cut your head off. So America, same thing. They ask you are you Muslim? You’ve got to change your religion. Thank you.”
A crowdfunding campaign for the family has been set up, since they sold everything to pay for visas and legal documents, and the family is fighting to be able to return.
Joseph Hohenstein, an attorney for the Assali family, said that they were denied an injunction that would bring them back from Damascus.
“There is a history of the U.S. government acknowledging mistakes and errors after they have removed people and assisted in their return,” Hohenstein said. “When it hasn’t done its job right, they’re willing to fix it. That’s what we’re asking them to do here.”
“This poor family sold everything and used those funds for this trip and now that’s gone,” said Jonathan Grode, an attorney who is helping on the case. “If they ever make it here they will be coming with not a penny to their names.”
What makes the situation even worse is the fact that Assali’s family even voted for Donald Trump.
“Where is your human side to send somebody to a war zone?” she asked of the man who once had her vote and her support.