Will a Muslim mother reach her dying son? Family says Trump travel ban is stopping her

Stockton resident Ali Hassan could be days away from saying a final goodbye to his dying son.

Two-year-old Abdullah Hassan is on life support at an Oakland hospital. Hassan said the most difficult part of the ordeal is not his child’s impending death — but that the toddler’s mother may not get to say her own farewell.

Hassan’s wife, Shaima Swileh, is a Yemeni national and was denied entry into the U.S. because of the Trump administration’s travel ban, according to Hassan.

Monday, during a press conference in Sacramento, Hassan told reporters that his son needs his mother to kiss him one last time. He said he has had little luck convincing federal immigration officials to allow his wife to come to the United States from Egypt, where she has been stuck in limbo fighting for a visa.

“I am emailing them, crying, and telling them that my son is dying,” Hassan said in an interview with The Sacramento Bee.

Hassan said that the latest responses in the year-long battle have all been automated email replies.

The travel ban began in 2017 when President Donald Trump signed in an executive order a few days after taking office that largely bars visas for citizens from five Muslim majority countries: Iran, Somalia, Syria, Libya, and Swileh’s home country Yemen. The list also includes North Korea and Venezuela, though few North Koreans travel to the U.S., and restrictions on Venezuela only apply to employees of government agencies and their immediate families.

“The overwhelming majority of people impacted by the Presidential Proclamation are Muslim,” said Zahra Billoo, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations San Francisco Bay Area chapter.

The Trump administration has said the countries were singled out not because of religion, but because of terrorist activity, and poor screening and security standards.

The ban was upheld as legal by a 5-4 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in June.

Billoo said the Supreme Court took into account that waivers were available in certain circumstances, but he said their issuance his been rare: CAIR officials estimate that only two percent of applicants have successfully petitioned for one.

Hassan, along with CAIR and several other religious and civil rights organizations, have called for the State Department to grant Swileh a waiver to allow her to see her son before he dies.

CAIR contacted the State Department and the US embassy in Cairo asking that the government expedite the mother’s request for a visa, or offer her humanitarian parole. The latter will allow her to enter the U.S. for a short period of time and requires that she leaves after the period is over.

The U.S. Department of State did not respond Monday to a request for comment from The Bee.

Ali Hassan is a U.S. citizen. Abdullah was born in war-torn Yemen with a rare form of hypomyelination, a degenerative brain disease which has left him unable to breathe without a ventilator.

The couple had always planned for Swileh to immigrate to the United States, but the situation became urgent as Abdullah’s condition was discovered and worsened, he said. The family went to Cairo, Egypt, the closest U.S. Embassy to Yemen. There, he applied for and was granted U.S. citizenship for Abdullah. But a visa for Swileh was denied.

As the boy’s condition worsened and three interviews with U.S. officials led to nowhere, Swileh and Hassan decided father and son needed to come to the United States for treatment, leaving Swileh behind.

Hassan and Abdullah arrived in the U.S. on Oct 1, and Abdullah is currently at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland. His father makes the trip from Stockton everyday to see him.

Abdullah’s condition continues to deteriorate rapidly, Hassan said, with no chance of recovery.

“I can’t imagine that I am going to bury him without his mother,” Hassan said. “She is just crying. He is facing death, and time is running out. I have to do something. I have to.”

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Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.