After 17-Month Wait, Yemeni Mother Arrives in Bay Area to Visit Dying Son

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Shaima Swileh holds her ailing son, Abdullah. Swileh was granted a waiver of the Trump administration's travel ban to visit her son in Oakland. (Courtesy of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Sacramento Valley)

Updated Thursday, 1 p.m.

Shaima Swileh arrived at San Francisco International Airport Wednesday night after the Council on American-Islamic Relations sued the United States to grant her a waiver of the Trump administration's travel ban.

Shaima Swileh arrives at San Francisco International Airport after being granted a waiver from President Trump's travel ban. (Courtesy of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Sacramento Valley)

Swileh was previously denied entry to the U.S. under the Trump administration's travel ban on citizens from mostly Muslim-majority countries, an advocacy group said Tuesday.

Her 2-year-old son, Abdullah, is being treated for a rare brain disease at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland and isn't expected to live much longer, said the Sacramento Valley chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

"Yemeni mother Shaima receives #MuslimBan visa waiver to see her dying child in a California hospital. We’re getting her here ASAP," the group tweeted early Tuesday.

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CAIR-Sacramento Valley said Swileh got her visa at the U.S Embassy in Cairo, where she has been living. A State Department spokeswoman said the department does not discuss the specifics of individual cases.

"This is the happiest day of my life," said Ali Hassan, Swileh's husband and Abdullah's father, in a CAIR-Sacramento Valley press release.

Ali Hassan with his son at the UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in Oakland.
Ali Hassan with his son at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland. (Courtesy of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Sacramento Valley)

According to Saad Sweilem, an attorney with CAIR-Sacramento Valley who is representing Swileh, she first applied for a visa in January 2017, which was denied under the Trump administration's travel ban that includes Yemen. She then applied for a waiver as the spouse of a U.S. citizen and the mother of a U.S. citizen child with a life-threatening medical condition.

Sweilem said that Hassan brought his son to the U.S. in October to seek medical care, while Swileh stayed behind in Egypt and made repeated requests for expedited review of her waiver application.

In recent days, CAIR-Sacramento Valley — along with other civil rights groups, religious groups and local elected officials — stepped in to advocate for the family and eventually secure the waiver.

"It's been a long process for her, and we're just very relieved," Sweilem said. "There's just a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel that she can be here and be with Abdullah."

The family also received support from local congressional leaders.

Reps. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, and Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, sent a letter to the State Department on Monday urging it to grant the waiver.

“It's so sad and so tragic that congressional intervention is necessary on something that is just plain right to do," Lee said.

Sweilem said that Swileh's visa will allow her to stay in the U.S. even after her son dies, with a path toward obtaining a green card and citizenship.

"This is the wife of an American citizen, the mother of an American citizen, and this is her new home," he said. "She should be here with her family, and they should have the opportunity to mourn together when Abdullah does pass and have the opportunity to continue their family and live together going forward."

KQED's Bianca Taylor, Ted Goldberg and Angela Corral contributed to this story.