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Syrian family back in Pennsylvania after ban halted

February 6, 2017

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Syrian immigrant Mathyo Asali thought his life was “ruined” when he landed at Philadelphia International Airport on Jan. 28, visa in hand, only to be denied entry to the United States.

Asali, who returned to Damascus, said he figured he’d be inducted into the Syrian military.

On Monday, the teenager and five members of his extended family were ecstatic to be back on U.S. soil.

“It’s really nice to know that there’s a lot of people supporting us,” Asali told Gov. Tom Wolf, who greeted the family at a relative’s house in Allentown.

The family was among thousands stuck in limbo at U.S. airports after President Donald Trump suspended America’s refugee program and issued a temporary travel ban on immigrants from seven majority-Muslim nations.

The U.S. government suspended enforcement of the ban Saturday after a federal judge in Washington state temporarily blocked it.

Dr. Ghassan Assali and his wife, Sarmad, both U.S. citizens originally from Syria, started the visa process for the dentist’s two brothers and their families more than 13 years ago.

The Assalis, who spell their name differently, bought and renovated a rowhome in the heart of Allentown’s large Syrian Christian community for their relatives in anticipation of the families’ arrival last month.

When they were barred from the country, “I was pessimistic. I did not think this was going to happen,” Sarmad Assali said Monday. “Last week, I was angry and I was depressed.”

Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and several private firms advanced the families’ case in federal court, while the region’s congressman, Republican Rep. Charlie Dent, also advocated for them.

The Asali brothers, their wives and two teenage children flew to New York from Abu Dhabi on Monday, then headed to Allentown on a chartered bus.

“Today we woke up to a new dream, and I am so thankful that they are ... safe with us,” Sarmad Assali said at a news conference in her driveway, minutes after her relatives’ arrival. “It took a lot of hard work to put today together.”

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