Two Christian families from Syria who had been working for nearly 15 years to join relatives in the United States were stopped Saturday at the Philadelphia airport and told to return to Doha, Qatar, due to the immigration travel-related executive order signed by President Donald Trump on Friday. Syria was one of seven countries on Trump's list for short-term banning of entry into the U.S., along with Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia. These two families are not refugees, but Christian Syrians, who according to US relatives, had paid for and had earned their visas.
On Sunday, protesters against Trump's new immigration policy are still standing firm at the Philadelphia International Airport, reports Daily Times News. The protest was slated for 2 p.m. Sunday at the International Arrivals terminal, where thousands congregated on Saturday to protest the orders. Those coming into the United States Saturday night were detained at the airport but were expected to be released Sunday after Federal Judge Ann Donnelly in Brooklyn granted an emergency stay sought by immigrants' rights lawyers, reports Delaware Online.
Two brothers, their wives and children left war-torn Syria with 16 suitcases and crossed the border into Lebanon. They were finally on their way to the United States this weekend, reports CNN, after a flight from Beirut to Doha, Qatar, and then to Philadelphia on Saturday.
Sarmad Assali and her daughter were among the relatives who were waiting to welcome the families to the U.S. Assali said they received a call from authorities Saturday morning telling them their relatives would not be allowed to enter the country.
The Assalis, U.S. citizens who live in Allentown, Penn., said they weren't able to connect with their family members until they were already headed back overseas. One of the brothers told Assali they were not allowed to make calls, or use the Internet while they were held in Philadelphia. The Assalis told CNN their family members do not speak English very well and were told by authorities they could either be detained and have their visas taken away, or they could take the first flight back to Doha.
Frightened and facing a language barrier, the six family members chose to board a plane. Assali told CNN she wished she had been able to speak with them, because she would have told them to stay until she could arrive with her attorney.
Tawfik Assali told CBSPhilly he had been looking forward to seeing his parents, siblings, aunt and uncle in the United States. "I was excited. I was going to meet my family after three years. It was a really happy moment. Now, after what happened, it's so hard," Tawfik said.
Bound for Allentown, and a new life in the U.S., the six arrived at Philadelphia International at 7:40 a.m. They said their family got a call from customs officers. "My sister told me they are not letting them in. All I could think of is there is a misunderstanding, maybe they forgot a paper," said Joseph Assali.
But this was not a paperwork issue.
"Everything was closed, it was a Saturday morning. There's no one I can talk to, there's no one that can help me, I can't call Donald Trump and ask him to let my family in," Joseph said.
But Joseph Assali remembered he went to school with Republican Congressman Charlie Dent's son, and got in touch. "These are not refugees. They have visas, ready to get their green cards, they are Christians, and I don't think this order was ever intended to keep people like this out of the country. So that's what I'm hoping. So I need clarification from the administration," said Congressman Dent, who said he had been in touch with the White House twice that day.
The family had been working since 2003 to escape religious persecution in their war-torn country, according to family members. They have a furnished home waiting for them in Allentown.
A stay has now been granted for immigrants in transit, but the Assalis were sent home - so it's unclear how they will be impacted.
This development surfaced after Trump's recent announcement that he intended for Christian refugees to in the future get first consideration for entering the U.S. Read The Gospel Herald coverage: Christian Refugees to be Given Priority into US by Trump, But He Also Froze Syrian Requests
Delaware leaders, such as Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester and Sen. Tom Carper are attending today's protest at the airport, as well as other Pennsylvania leaders and advocacy groups. More than 4,500 people were "attending" the protest, according to the Facebook event.