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Syrian Family Forced To Return To Middle East After Arriving In Philadelphia


We have another story now about how one family has been affected by President Trump's executive order. Sarah Assali and her father were expecting to meet Syrian uncles, aunts and cousins at the Philadelphia International Airport on Saturday. But on their way, they got a call from U.S. Customs and Border Protection telling them to stay home. Their family members who are Syrian Christians were heading back to the Middle East. Sarah Assali joins us on the line now from outside of Philadelphia. Sarah, thanks so much for speaking with us.

SARAH ASSALI: No problem. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: I know it's been a tough day.

ASSALI: It definitely has.

MARTIN: I understand that your family's been working to bring your aunts, uncles and cousins over for 14 years now. Why did they want to leave?

ASSALI: Well, my dad originally came, you know, for a better future, for his children, for his family, and he just wanted to bring his brothers and sisters over to have the same opportunities that he had to attend better schools, have, you know, more opportunities.

MARTIN: What happened when they arrived?

ASSALI: According to my family, they were taken from the gate of the airplane and taken to a holding cell eventually and told that - they were handed tickets, and their luggage was waiting for them there. And they were told you have to either go back or we're going to invalidate your visas, and you won't be able to return for five years. At that point, they did - were not offered a translator, and their English was very weak. They asked to make phone calls, but they were denied telephone use to reach out to us.

At that point, my uncle had essentially begged the officials to please call my father to let him know not to wait outside. And that was all the information we got. My dad got a phone call from a restricted number, and all they said was don't bother coming. We're not letting your family out. They're being sent back. They told us the information was confidential and that our family could call us and reach us when they're in Syria and let us know.

MARTIN: And have they reached Syria yet? Where are they now? Do you know?

ASSALI: They just got to Damascus about two hours ago.

MARTIN: How are they? How are their spirits?

ASSALI: They actually had no idea that this much of an uproar had happened over this executive order. So, at first, I think all of us felt very hopeless, but now that they know that, you know, a lot of things are in the works, there's protests going on and that the American people do support them, I think they're a lot more hopeful.

MARTIN: How are you doing?

ASSALI: I'm OK. It's - I haven't processed it all yet.

MARTIN: How is your dad?

ASSALI: He's upset. He's angry. He's frustrated, but he just wants his family to come here.

MARTIN: I understand that he's even bought - he even bought a second home in Allentown for them to help them get settled. That's quite a commitment. And I also understand that...

ASSALI: Yeah, they...

MARTIN: ...That your family members in Syria had also liquidated their assets, so they've basically already sold everything that they own there in preparation for the move. Do I have that right?

ASSALI: Yeah. They sold their cars, so they could afford plane tickets to come here. They got, you know - they sold all of their gold and any valuables that they had. They didn't expect to have to go back. I mean, luckily, they did have a home to go back to still. But they don't have anything else.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, is there anything else that you would wish people to know about this that, perhaps, they might not know if they're not as close to it as you are?

ASSALI: I guess my advice would be just to read - read everything, learn as much as you can before you jump to any - jump, you know, conclusions or judgments on any of the situations, you know, whether it be the situation in Syria or anywhere else worldwide because a lot of these policies are very emotionally driven. And they are not based on reality, and a lot of people who are making these judgments - it's not - it's all emotional.

So I would suggest everyone, you know, to go out and read and learn and try to come up with the most well-rounded response to what's happening in the world.

MARTIN: Well, I understand that you're a medical student. You're in the middle of - what? - your rotations, I understand. So we wish you the best with that, and good luck with that.

ASSALI: Thank you.

MARTIN: And I hope you'll be able to concentrate. That's Sarah...

ASSALI: Thank you.

MARTIN: ...Assali. She's a medical student. Her family members were sent back to Syria by President Trump's executive orders. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.