By Alexandria Hoff
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Assali family was already in transit when the president made the executive order Friday, and only learned about it mid-flight to the U.S.
These are not refugees, but Christian Syrians, who according to family here had paid for and had earned their visas.
This was the day that Tawfik Assali had been looking forward to since he left Syria, and last saw his parents, siblings, aunt, and uncle.
“I was excited. I was going to meet my family after three years. It was a really happy moment. Now, after what happened, it’s so hard” Tawfik said.
Bound for Allentown, and a new life in the U.S., the six arrived at Philadelphia International from Syria, by way of Qatar at 7:40am.
That’s when their family got a call from customs officers.
“My sister told me they are not letting them in. All I could think of is there is a misunderstanding, maybe they forgot a paper,” said Joseph Assali.
But this was not a paperwork issue.
According to the Assali family in Allentown, their Christian Syrian relatives were given the choice of being detained for an unclear amount of time, or to purchase flights back. They chose the latter.
“Everything was closed, it was a Saturday morning. There’s no one I can talk to, there’s no one that can help me, I can’t call Donald Trump and ask him to let my family in,” Joseph said.
But Joseph Assali remembered he went to school with Republican Congressman Charlie Dent’s son, and got in touch.
“These are not refugees. They have visas, ready to get their green cards, they are Christians, and I don’t think this order was ever intended to keep people like this out of the country. So that’s what I’m hoping. So I need clarification from the administration,” said Congressman Dent, who said he had been in touch with the White House twice that day.
Congressman Dent has been working with the family as they obtain a lawyer.
“I can’t imagine that they feel nothing but alone and helpless,” Joseph said.
For Tawfik Assali, it was a tease.
For the first time in three years, his family were just an hour and a half away, only to be sent back.
“They should be here. Everything they did was legal, nothing illegal,” he said.
The family had been working since 2003 to escape religious persecution in their war-torn country. They have a furnished home waiting for them in Allentown.
A stay has now been granted for immigrants in transit, but the Assalis were sent home – so it’s unclear how they will be impacted.