The manager of a Los Banos convenience store was stuck in a hotel in east Africa on Sunday after U.S. authorities refused to allow him to bring his 12-year-old daughter into the United States because of President Donald Trump’s executive order halting immigration from several countries.
Ahmed Ali, the Yemeni American manager of the Buy-N-Save Market at Seventh and C streets, told the Los Banos Enterprise and the Merced Sun-Star by phone that he and his daughter were stuck in Djibouti, a country across the Mandeb Strait from Yemen, after they were blocked from boarding their Ethiopian Airlines flight to the United States.
Yemen is one of seven countries affected by Trump’s order issued Friday suspending immigration from countries said to represent a greater risk of fomenting terrorists. A federal judge suspended the order Saturday, but the stay does not affect Ali’s daughter’s situation because they had not yet reached the United States, according to his daughter’s attorney, Katy Lewis.
“They were going through the correct legal procedures,” Lewis said. “It just seems patently unfair that this girl can’t be with her family.”
Ali, 38, said it would be far too risky for his daughter to return to Yemen.
“She can’t go back because of the war,” he said. “I can’t leave her by herself; and that’s where we are.”
Ali, a U.S. citizen since 2010, said his family has been working for more than a decade to escape Yemen which, The Associated Press reports, has been upended by a civil war pitting Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies against government forces backed by a Saudi-led military coalition.
Ali’s wife and two other children, ages 16 and 2, are U.S. citizens, but it has been harder to bring his 12-year-old daughter to the United Sates because she was born in Yemen and has a Yemeni passport, he said.
Lewis, a San Francisco-based immigration attorney, said the family has been trying to secure the girl’s visa for seven years, a process that was slowed by Yemen’s war, particularly after the United States closed its embassy there in February 2015.
Finally, after years of rigorous background and medical checks, the girl received her immigration visa Thursday.
The girl traveled with her uncle to Jordan, where she met up with Ali. The father and daughter then traveled to Djibouti and expected to board their flight to the United States on Saturday.
Authorities, however, refused to allow her on the plane because of Trump’s order and told Ali they would have to wait 90 days, he said.
“When they told me, I kind of got shocked,” Ali said, adding that he doesn’t know when he may come back.
“I wouldn’t believe they’d stop her. The USA is supposed to be the example of freedom. Now, where did that freedom go?”
Ali said his daughter and his brother took great risk to get out of Yemen, fearing bombs and guns.
Yemen’s war is “getting worse and worse,” Ali said.
On Sunday, a U.S. military service member was killed in a raid on al-Qaida in central Yemen, the first known combat death of a U.S. serviceman since Trump took office, the AP reported. The raid also resulted in the deaths of nearly 30 others, including women and children.
Ali, his wife and oldest daughter traveled to the United States about 14 years ago, Lewis said. A year later, with Yemen still considered safe, his wife opted to give birth to their second daughter in Yemen, where she could be with their extended family.
Ali stayed in Los Banos and worked.
When Ali’s wife decided to return to the U.S. a couple of years later, she and the elder daughter were allowed in, but the younger girl could not enter without a visa.
“We never expected it to be a problem,” Ali said.
Ali said his daughter’s denial of entry showed him that Trump’s order wasn’t thought through.
“It’s kind of more racist and based on religion,” said Ali, whose family practices Islam. “It’s not reasonable. This (order) is not America; it’s only one person.”
Back in Los Banos, Buy-N-Save owner Jose Munoz said people in the shop are hoping Ali is able to come back with his daughter soon.
“It’s hard for us, too,” Munoz said. “He works seven days a week. He takes his kids to school. He just works hard.”
Vikaas Shanker: 209-826-3831, ext. 6562