Two-year-old whose Yemeni mother fought for U.S. visa to visit him dies in hospital

Posted at 4:33 PM, Dec 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-29 17:39:10-05

A terminally ill boy whose Yemeni mother fought for more than a year to visit him after being barred from entering the U.S. by the Trump administration’s travel ban has died in a hospital in California.

Abdullah Hassan, 2, had suffered from a genetic brain condition and died at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said in a statement released Friday.

“We are heartbroken. We had to say goodbye to our baby, the light of our lives,” Abdullah’s father, Ali Hassan, said in the statement.

“We want to thank everyone for your love and support at this difficult time. We ask you to kindly keep Abdullah and our family in your thoughts and prayers,” the 22-year-old added.

A funeral was being held in Lodi, California, on Saturday.

Hassan is a U.S. citizen and has family in Stockton, California but his wife, Shaima Swileh, is Yemeni.

The pair met in war-torn Yemen in 2016 before moving to Egypt. Hassan and Swileh wanted to move to the U.S., but as a Yemeni national Swileh was barred from entering the country under the Trump administration’s travel ban against people from some Muslim-majority countries.

When Abdullah’s health worsened, Hassan took him ahead to California for treatment and Swileh remained in Egypt where she continued to apply for a U.S. visa. As the couple fought for a waiver, doctors put Abdullah on life support.

“My wife is calling me every day wanting to kiss and hold her son for the one last time,” Hassan said, choking up at a news conference earlier this month.

CAIR launched a campaign to publicize the family’s plight and the State Department granted Swileh a waiver the next day to visit her dying son.

The 21-year-old mother arrived in San Francisco on Dec. 19.

The Trump administration’s travel ban, which replaced two earlier versions blocked by lower courts, bars travel to the U.S. from seven countries, five of which are predominantly Muslim: Libya, Iran, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. The other two are North Korea and Venezuela.

The State Department said earlier this month that it could not comment on any individual case. But it said that visa applicants from nations under the travel ban can be granted waivers if they don’t pose a security threat and if their absence from the U.S. would cause undue hardship.

Saad Sweilem, civil rights attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations of the Sacramento Valley, said the case demonstrates the harmful impact on what he called the Trump administration’s “Muslim ban.”

“His case showed the realities of this ban, of the Muslim ban,” Sweilem said. “He showed the realities of family separation, and what’s happening to the Yemeni community, and the Iranian community, and other countries on the ban.”

“I think this was an embarrassment to the Trump administration, and it should be. They should be embarrassed,” he said, adding that he hopes that the administration will realize the consequences of its policies, and it will change things for other families.

“It’s clearly a ban of Muslims, just like Donald Trump told us when he was running for president, and we’re seeing the effects of it,” Sweilem said. “If this family couldn’t obtain a waiver until we had a massive campaign and lawsuit, then you’ve got to ask yourself: you know, what kind of waiver process is that, and what’s the real point of this ban?”

Sweilem said that the child’s mother was granted an immigrant visa “so she’s going to be here permanently with her husband.”

“Obviously, it means a lot to them to have that moment together again — they were very close to seeing the unimaginable, which was having to be separated while their baby died,” he said.

But he said that if the restrictions had not been in place, Abdullah and his mother could have been in the U.S. over a year ago, and the child could have received medical attention that wasn’t available to him overseas.