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Medical impact of Trump travel ban: baby’s heart surgery halted, doctor denied entry at border

Published: Wednesday, February 01, 2017 @ 11:09 AM
Updated: Wednesday, February 01, 2017 @ 11:09 AM
By: Crystal Bonvillian - Cox Media Group National Content Desk

Thousands of people denied entry into the U.S. because of President Donald Trump’s immigration ban have heart-wrenching stories of family separation, but many of those halted at America’s borders find themselves in a life-or-death situation.

KPTV in Oregon reported that a 4-month-old Iranian girl, identified only as Fatemah, has been denied entry into the country, despite her desperate need for open heart surgery. She was due to have surgery next week at an Oregon Health & Science University hospital in Portland.

In a second case, a Chicago doctor, who traveled to the United Arab Emirates to get married, had his visas cancelled before he could return to the United States. Dr. Amer Al Homssi, a Syrian refugee, has filed one of two lawsuits in the Chicago area, challenging Trump’s executive order, the Chicago Tribune reported.

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‘It’s like a nightmare’

Sam Taghizadeh, of Portland, told KPTV that his family chose to bring his infant niece, Fatemah, to the United States for surgery because of the low quality of medical services in Iran.

“Over there, it’s a very high risk, because that is open heart surgery,” Taghizadeh said.

Another reason to relocate for the operation was to be close to family. Taghizadeh and Fatemah’s grandparents are all American citizens, KPTV reported.

Fatemah’s parents went through the arduous process of filling out the documentation and having the proper security checks done so they could bring their daughter to Oregon in time for her surgery. Thus far, there had been no problems.

When they landed Saturday in Dubai, where they were to apply for a tourist visa, their journey came to a halt. The day after Trump signed an executive order stopping immigration from seven Middle Eastern countries, the family was told they could not complete their trip.

They had no choice but to travel back to Iran, where their sick daughter will keep getting sicker. Fatemah’s surgery cannot wait much longer, Taghizadeh told the news station.

“Even I asked, can they wait a couple other years? They said no,” Taghizadeh said. “This thing has to be as soon as possible.”

Social media users expressed anger about the delay in Fatemah's treatment. 

This is disgusting! As if Baby Fatemah is a threat to National Security interests! What can we do to help her and her family?

Posted by Michelle Schilz on Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Taghizadeh, who helped fund his niece’s trip, is also frustrated.

“Why we came to U.S., we came here for freedom. For a better life,” he told KPTV. “I’m feeling nowhere is safe.”

‘A terrible humanitarian tragedy’

Like Fatemah and her parents, Al Homssi was also detained in Dubai as he attempted to return to Chicago. The Tribune reported that the 24-year-old resident of internal medicine at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn is seeing both his livelihood and his life put in danger.

If he is not allowed back into the U.S., it jeopardizes his career. As a Syrian citizen and legal resident of the United Arab Emirates, however, being kicked out of the country could be much more dangerous.

Without his residency at the hospital in Chicago, Al Homssi could be kicked out of the UAE and forced back to Syria.  

“He’s the epitome of why these visas exist, to encourage people from foreign countries to come here and study and learn,” Al Homssi’s lawyer, Thomas Anthony Durkin, told the Tribune. “This is a terrible humanitarian tragedy, and I can’t believe that he’s the only one suffering like this.”

A man who described himself as an acquaintance of Al Homssi took to Facebook to praise his dedication and speak out against the young doctor's denial into the country. 

Dr Amer Al Homssi is a resident physician in Advocate christ medical center, Chicago. Every one in the medical field...

Posted by Islam Alsagheer on Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The lawsuit Durkin filed on Al Homssi’s behalf alleged that the doctor went to the airport in Dubai on Sunday, five days after his wedding, to return to Chicago. A U.S. immigration officer seized his passport, visas and boarding pass and led him into a secondary screening area.

It was there that Al Homssi was told he was being refused entry to the U.S. His visa documents were handed back to him, a line drawn through them in black marker, the Tribune reported.

Handwritten notations read, “Cancelled E.O. 59447v.8,” a reference to the executive order, the newspaper said. A photocopy of the documents were included in the lawsuit filing, which was obtained by the Tribune.

Al Homssi’s lawsuit argued that, despite White House assertions that the executive order is not a Muslim ban, the order does just that. The suit points to a clause in the order that appears to protect Christians coming to the U.S. from the seven countries named in the ban.

The lawsuit also alleged that customs officials were interested in an app on the doctor’s phone called Islamona, which features Quran prayers and scripture. Al Homssi, who has no criminal record, was never asked any questions related to terrorism, the lawsuit said.