Doctors affected by President Trump's recent executive order barring many individuals from seven nations from entering the United States rushed to enter the country after a federal judge on Friday issued a restraining ordering blocking the ban.
Lawyers for the Department of Justice (DOJ) have filed an appeal to lift the restraining order.
Background on travel ban
The executive order blocked individuals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the United States for 90 days (with exceptions for naturalized U.S. citizens). It also suspended refugee resettlement from all countries for 90 days and from Syria indefinitely. Trump and members of his administration say the ban will help prevent terrorism in the United States.
The ban affected thousands of travelers coming to the United States to see family, attend school, and work in high-demand fields—including health care. In the days after the ban went into effect, several doctors and researchers who are residents of the seven affected countries said they had either been barred from boarding flights headed to the United States or that immigration officials forced them to leave the country after they arrived.
Latest legal developments
On Jan. 29, U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly issued a temporary stay on a portion of the order, ruling that refugees or visa holders held at U.S. airports under the policy could not be deported. However, the stay did not apply to individuals who remained abroad.
Washington and Minnesota subsequently filed a lawsuit challenging the ban in federal court in Washington. On Friday, U.S. District Judge James Robart issued a nationwide restraining order halting the enforcement of the travel ban entirely, BBC News reports.
Lawyers for the DOJ on Monday filed an appeal with 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to reverse the restraining order. The court has scheduled oral arguments for Tuesday afternoon, but in the meantime, refugees and individuals with valid visas from the seven affected countries can enter the United States, the Associated Press reports.
Rushing to enter the country
Several health care professionals affected by the ban were able to enter the country over the last week.
At least one doctor—Amer Al Homssi, a medical resident at Christ Hospital in Chicago who was born in Syria and holds a United Arab Emirates passport—was able to enter the United States before Robart issued his restraining order. After being stranded abroad after the travel ban, Al Homssi filed a separate federal lawsuit challenging the executive order, on Tuesday a judge determined that his visa was still valid. He returned to Chicago on Thursday.
Separately, Kamal Fadlalla, a second-year internal medicine resident at Interfaith Medical Center in New York City, was able to enter the United States on Saturday following Robart's order. Fadlalla had been stranded in his home country of Sudan, where U.S. officials would not allow him to board his flight back to the United States. Upon his arrival in the United States, Fadlalla said it felt "great" to be back in New York and called his experience over the past week "shocking." But Fadalla was focused on returning to his patients. "I'll be happy to see all of them," he said.
New York's public advocate Letitia James (D) was on hand to welcome Fadlalla at the airport, saying, "I believe in freedom and I believe in individual liberties and I believe this doctor, who has done much for central Brooklyn, needs to be celebrated and he needs to know that America is a safe harbor."
Other doctors and researchers who were able to enter the United States under the Robart's nationwide restraining order include:
- Samira Asgari, an Iranian researcher who was set to move from Switzerland to the United States for a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School working under a Brigham and Women's Hospital rheumatologist to research tuberculosis; and
- Amene Asgari, an Iranian mathematician (not related to Samira Asgari), who will conduct research at Harvard and Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Cleveland Clinic resident still unable to return
Meanwhile, Suha Abushamma, a first-year internal medicine resident at Cleveland Clinic, remains stuck in Saudi Arabia despite Robart's order, which only applies to individuals who had their visas canceled. In Abushamma's case, her visa was withdrawn voluntarily—although she has filed a lawsuit claiming she was coerced into doing so.
Lawyers representing Abushamma filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, seeking a writ of habeas corpus and an order permitting Abushamma's reentry to the United States. The suit claims, among other allegations, that Abushamma was "misled and coerced" into withdrawing her visa.
The judge in her case has asked the government to provide "proof" as to why Abushamma's visa should not be reinstated and scheduled a hearing for Feb. 15 to determine if she should be allowed back into the country.
The Cleveland Clinic is scheduled to hold a news conference Tuesday at 1 p.m. to provide an update on Abushamma (Heisig, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2/7; Liptak, New York Times, 2/6; Ornstein, ProPublica, 2/6; AP/CBS News, 2/6; BBC News, 2/6; Morice, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2/5; Matthew, AFP/Yahoo News, 2/5; Schabner, ABC News, 2/5; CBS Chicago, 2/2; Chaffin, Financial Times, 2/5; Allen/Gans, Boston Globe, 25; Asgari, Twitter, 2/6).
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