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Lehigh Valley Family Sues Trump Administration Over Syrian Relatives Denied Entry

Immigration lawyers representing a Syrian family denied entry into Philadelphia Saturday morning filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday against the Trump administration.

The complaint filed on behalf of the Asali family alleges President Donald Trump's executive order violates several constitutional guarantees, including those belonging to members of a protected class and the right to due process.

The lawsuit asked that the family’s visas, which were legally obtained and granted, be reinstated and that reentry into the United States be paid at the government’s expense. Lawyers also sought a guarantee that the Asalis not be detained upon arrival on U.S. soil.

“These are not people seeking asylum. These are not people seeking any relief,” said Jonathan Grode, one of the attorneys working on this case. “This is a family-based sponsorship.”

This lawsuit comes one day after U.S. Customs and Border Protection denied a resolution to bring the family back to the U.S.

The family — including four adults and two children — planned to settle in Allentown — about 60 miles north of Philadelphia — where relatives who are U.S. citizens had bought a home for them. It took the family 13 years to secure visas and passports to relocate to the U.S.

All six family members returned to Syria over the weekend, and have been described as “tired and exhausted” by their Allentown relatives.

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“They’re on overdrive,” said Sarmad Assali, whose brother-in-law required oxygen to be administered to him mid-flight after becoming faint.

“They were treated like criminals. Their paperwork and their passports were taken away from them. They were not allowed to have them until they reached Beirut, Lebanon, where they had to travel by land back to Syria.”

Sarmad Assali’s husband, Dr. Ghassan Assali, first immigrated to the U.S. more than 30 years ago. He joined relatives already living in Allentown and received his dentistry degree from New York University. In 2003, Assali sought to bring his remaining brothers from Syria to join his family in Pennsylvania.

Basam and Hassan Asali and their wives, Jozfin and Jurjeet, and Hassan’s two children, Sara and M.A.A., were issued visas in December 2016. They waited to relocate until January in order to spend the holidays in Syria. The Asali family is Christian.[[412094453, C]]

After arriving at the Philadelphia International Airport, the Asali family was met by two U.S. Customs and Protection officials. The six were removed from the plane, detained and told they could either leave the U.S. on the same plane or stay and be arrested, according to court documents. They were denied phone calls and prevented from speaking to their relatives waiting at the airport.

The lawsuit referenced a weekend court decision in New York, which ruled that authorities could not remove people from the seven Muslim-majority countries who arrived in the U.S. after Trump issued his executive order banning immigrants from those nations. The Asalis were mid-flight when the executive order was issued, the family said.

In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said the agency will continue "to work with our partners in the departments of justice and state to implement President Trump’s executive order to protect the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States."

DHS added that it is "committed to ensuring that all individuals affected by the executive orders ... are being provided all rights afforded under the law."

The government agency is working closely with airlines to prevent travelers who cannot enter the United States from boarding flights heading to the country, according to a statement.

"We are and will continue enforcing President Trump’s executive order humanely and with professionalism," DHS said.

The agency did not comment specifically on the Asali lawsuit.

Defendants named in the litigation include President Trump; the Department of Homeland Security and its secretary, John Kelly; Customs and Border Protection and its Acting Commissioner, Kevin McAleenan; and Kevin Donohue, the port director of the Philadelphia field office of CBP.

The family members last names are spelled differently due to a name change during immigration into the U.S., a spokesman for the ACLU said. [[412059543, C]]

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