Families Denied Entry at the Philadelphia Airport File Federal Litigation Against the Trump Administration

January 31, 2017
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PHILADELPHIA – Three families who were denied entry into the United States at Philadelphia International Airport on Saturday will file federal lawsuits against the Trump administration today, challenging their detention and removal. The families, who are all nationals from countries listed in an executive order issued by President Trump on Friday, were denied entry when they landed in Philadelphia, were detained, and were then sent back to their countries of origin.

The lawsuits will be filed in the federal eastern district of Pennsylvania and were announced at a press conference held this morning at Philadelphia City Hall. The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys from the Philadelphia chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and HIAS PA, along with a team of immigrants’ rights attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and civil rights firm Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, and Feinberg.

The plaintiffs include the Asali families, who are natives of Syria. After a wait of over ten years, the families were finally granted visas that would allow them to travel and join loved ones in the United States. They sold most of their belongings in preparation of starting their new lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Their U.S.-based family had even purchased a home for them in Allentown.

But when the families landed in Philadelphia on Saturday morning, they were denied entry into the United States as a result of President Trump’s executive order. Among other provisions, that order temporarily bans entry into the country for travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) revoked the Asalis’ visas and ordered them to return to a home where little was left for them.

The same attorneys are representing Fatemeh Sheikhi, an Iranian mother whose two adult daughters are both doctoral students in the United States: Farzaneh Ahmadi Darani is studying at the University of Delaware, and her sister, Shadi Ahmadi Darani, is studying at the Michigan Technological University.

When Sheikhi, a retired educator, arrived in Philadelphia with an approved visa to enter the country, she received the same treatment as the Asalis: her visa was revoked and she was sent back to Iran, all within two hours of her arrival. One of her daughters was waiting for her in the Philadelphia Arrivals Hall but was unreachable because they were not allowed to meet or even speak on the phone. The four days of travel from Iran to Philadelphia and back to Iran, virtually non-stop, took a tremendous emotional and physical toll on Sheikhi, who fell ill soon after her return home.

The complaints filed today on behalf of these families allege that the Trump administration executive order violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by preferring one religion over another and the equal protection guarantee of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, among other claims. The lawsuits ask the court to order the government to immediately reinstate the plaintiffs’ revoked visas, to arrange transportation for the plaintiffs back to the United States at government expense, and to authorize their entry into the country.

The 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 attorneys involved in these efforts include Joe Hohenstein, of Landau, Hess, Simon and Choi; Ayodele Gansallo, of HIAS Pennsylvania; Mary Catherine Roper and Molly Tack-Hooper of the ACLU of Pennsylvania; John Grogan, Ned Diver, Irv Ackelsberg, and Peter Leckman of Langer, Grogan & Diver LLP; Paul Messing, Jonathan Feinberg, and Susan Lin of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg LLP; and Jonathan Grode, of Green and Spiegel LLC.

The complaint will be available at aclupa.org/asali.

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