State Department allows Yemeni mother to travel to U.S. to see her dying son, lawyer says

A Yemeni mother who has been unable to obtain permission from the U.S. State Department to travel to California to see her dying son has been granted a visa through a rare travel ban waiver, according to her lawyer Saad Sweilem.

Sweilem told The Sacramento Bee federal officials issued the visa Tuesday morning.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Bee.

Sweilem is now assisting the mother, Shaima Swileh, with travel plans. He said Swileh hopes to leave Cairo, where she has been staying while attempting to get a visa, today.

“We are happy that she can kiss and hold her son one last time,” Sweilem said.

For months, Swileh has been separated from her critically-ill 2-year-old son, Abdullah Hassan. Abdullah’s father, Ali Hassan, is a U.S. citizen who lives in Stockton. Abdullah was born in Yemen, but obtained U.S. citizenship through his father after being diagnosed with hypomyelination, a degenerative brain disorder.

The family was staying in Cairo while Swileh tried to obtain a visa to travel with her family to the United States to receive medical treatment for Abdullah, but she was repeatedly denied travel documents, Ali Hassan said.

As the child’s condition worsened, Hassan and Swileh decided the father and son would leave without her.

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

Abdullah’s condition continues to deteriorate rapidly, Hassan said, with no chance of recovery. He is now on a ventilator and not expected to live much longer.

Monday, Hassan made a public plea that his wife be allowed to travel to say goodbye to her son.

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

Hassan said Monday he believed a travel ban instituted in the first days of President Donald Trump’s administration was the cause of Swileh’s denials.

That travel ban began in 2017 when Trump signed in an executive order that largely bars visas for citizens from five Muslim majority countries: Iran, Somalia, Syria, Libya, and Swileh’s home country, Yemen. The list of banned countries 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 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.

Sweilem also noted that the waiver will allow Swileh to remain in the U.S. with her husband and pursue permanent legal immigration.

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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.