Family, mourners honor 2-year-old who died after mother was delayed by Trump travel ban

Two-year-old Abdullah Hassan, who was separated from his Yemeni mother due to travel restrictions instituted by the Trump administration, was laid to rest Saturday, days after the family was able to reunite.

Abdullah died the day before at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland after battling a degenerative brain disease.

Shaima Swileh was reunited with her son and husband, Hassan Ali, on Dec. 19.

When she held him, Abdullah opened his eyes for the first time in weeks and gave a bit of a yawn, according to the family attorney Saad Sweilem. The family announced his death Friday night after the child was taken off life support.

The family came to national attention as his mother fought for a visa to reach the child’s bedside. Abdullah had been on life support, but his condition became fatal and doctors had given him only days to live. Swileh had been repeatedly denied a travel visa, according to the family.

The state department did not respond to a previous request for comment from The Bee.

Swileh had been waiting for her visa for 17 months. In October, the couple decided to have their son travel to the U.S. with Hassan for medical treatment. Swileh remained in Egypt until the Council on American-Islamic Relations helped her sue the Trump administration this month to receive a waiver and visa to travel to the U.S.

“I had to choose between keeping my family together and coming here to get treatment,” Hassan said. “We know our son did not die in vain.”

On Saturday afternoon, more than 250 community members gathered at the California Islamic Center to pray for Abdullah. Hassan was joined by eight men in carrying Abdullah’s casket into the mosque. Dozens of men approached Abdullah’s casket to pay their final respects as a colorful sheet was lifted to show Abdullah’s shrouded body.

Funerals and burials in the Muslim community are generally private and not recorded, but according to CAIR officials, Hassan allowed the media to document Abdullah’s shrouded body in the mosque and as he was laid to rest at the near Islamic cemetery in this San Joaquin County town.

In this December 2018 photo released by the Council on American Islamic Relations, Sacramento Valley, Shaima Swileh of Yemen holds her dying 2-year old son Abdullah Hassan at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland. Council on American Islamic Relations

“He wanted the world to see how this policy impacts his family,” CAIR Sacramento Valley Executive Director Basim Elkarra said. “He hopes what happened to his son will be a means to help other families.”

Swileh, Abdullah’s mother, did not attend the funeral. Several attendees emotionally embraced one another at the mosque doors.

“Muslims love, hurt and grieve just like anybody else. We have the right to basic dignity and rights,” Sweilem said.

CAIR officials were critical of the Trump administration, and said they should be ashamed for keeping the family separated for so long.

“If this Muslim ban wasn’t in place to begin with, Abdullah and his mother would probably have been here over a year ago,” said Sweilem, who also works with the advocacy group. “He could have received medical attention that he could have really used that wasn’t available overseas while they were waiting for Shaima to receive a waiver.”

Hael Almaghafi, a coworker of Hassan’s, drove from Oakland to support the family. Many people in the Yemeni community were relieved the family was reunited, but called the outcome sad and emotional.

“It’s a good sign politically, but it’s sad that it had to come to this,” said Youcef Sari, who came to the service from Sacramento. “This is reminder to the Muslim community that this ban is a serious thing. This is the only one I have heard of, but it’s affecting so many families.”

Hassan is a U.S. citizen and lives in Stockton. Abdullah was also a U.S. citizen, but Swileh is Yemeni. President Donald Trump issued an executive order days after taking office that restricted visas for nationals of Yemen and a handful of other countries.

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

As the child’s condition worsened, Abdullah and his father came to the U.S. in October without her.

After media drew attention to the case, Swileh was granted a visa waiver from the U.S. State Department on Dec. 18 and arrived Wednesday. The waiver allows her to remain in the U.S. and seek permanent legal status.

“With their courage, this family has inspired our nation to confront the realities of Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban,” Sweilem said. “In his short life, Abdullah has been a guiding light for all of us in the fight against xenophobia and family separation.”

In a statement Friday, Hassan said, “We are heartbroken. We had to say goodbye to our baby, the light of our lives. We want to thank everyone for your love and support at this difficult time.”

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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.