by Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Mayor Jim Kenney joined civil rights lawyers, including the ACLU of Pennsylvania, at a press conference on Tuesday announcing a lawsuit on behalf of families denied access to the U.S. at Philadelphia International Airport, and sent back to their home countries under the travel ban.READ MORE: Stimulus Check Latest: Will You Get A Fourth Relief Payment?
The federal complaint filed Tuesday morning seeks the return of six members of the Assali family, alleging constitution, civil rights, and immigration law violations.
“It was a shock to hear they were sent back the way they were. It’s un-American and unethical,” says Sarmad Assali, who has lived in the U.S. since 1978.
She had been waiting a decade to have her relatives join them in Allentown and had bought them a house. Two of her brothers-in-law, their wives, and children were in transit when Travel ban was signed.
When they arrived at Philly International they were denied entry, had their visas revoked, they were detained, and sent back to their home country after days of travel.
“How they sent them back so quickly was just heartbreaking,” she says. “No translators, no chance to call lawyers, they did not know what was going on. It just seems un-American.”
Assali and her husband Dr. Ghassan Assali are reported to have voted for President Trump, but were shocked by the Travel ban.
The President’s executive order issued last Friday temporarily bans entry into the country for travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
“This executive order is an outrage,” says Joseph Assali, 20. “This country is the country of opportunity and freedom, we cannot turn it into one of gates and discrimination.”
Jonathan Feinberg is an attorney with the Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing and Feinberg law firm, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Assalis.
He joined the mayor and advocates at City Hall, telling reporters they hope government attorneys cooperate, but will seek judicial intervention if necessary.
“We will fight,” he says. “We will ensure that everyone who is subjected to these immoral and intolerant practices on behalf of this administration will have a hearing in federal court.”READ MORE: Philadelphia Mother Pleading To Find Driver Who Struck Son In Hit-And-Run, 'Guardian Angel' Who Found Him
Feinberg says the complaint seeks a return of the Assalis’ visas within 48 hours, as well a government paid trip back to the U.S.
“This has been an excruciating and emotional journey for her,” says Ayodele Gasanno, an attorney with HIAS Pennsylvania, who represents Farzaneh and Shadi Ahmadi Darani.
The two doctoral students were at Philly International to meet their mother, Fatemeh Sheikhi, who had traveled from Iran. She was turned away after days of travel and sent back to Iran with little explanation.
“This is extremely unfair and inhuman,” says Shadi. “We don’t know when we will see our mother.”
The daughters have a visa that allows them to study here in the U.S., but they cannot leave the country. They had not seen their mother in two years.
“The travel was too much for her,” says Farzaneh. “She took ill. She says she’s not coming back alone.”
CBS 3’s Greg Argos reports Customs and Border Protection agents searched Sheikhi’s bags and allowed an airline worker to deliver the girls a gift — identical gold necklaces for their upcoming birthdays.
“It is a comfort and a reminder of the sad experience we went through at the same time. We wanted it to be handed to us by our mom. It’s just that feeling that our mom got it for us,” says Shadi.
A lawsuit could be filed on Sheikhi’s behalf in the coming days. The ACLU is also working on a long-term national strategy to deal with the temporary Travel Ban.
“We plan to challenge every unconstitutional, anti-immigrant law that is rolled out and get them all struck down,” says Molly Tack-Cooper, a staff attorney from the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “We still have independent federal courts and we are using them.”
Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired on Monday for refusing to defend the travel ban in court.
“This is not just a fight for politicians, this is not just a fight for lawyers – this is a fight for every American,” says Feinberg, who urged citizens to call their Senator and demand that they block the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General.MORE NEWS: Philadelphia's Evil Genius Beer Company Giving Out Free Beers To Those Getting Vaccinated In May
In the meantime, advocates from CAIR, Juntos, Arab American CDC, and lawyers from the ACLU of Pennsylvania, HIAS Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and other volunteer attorneys say they will continue to work to limit the damage from the temporary Travel Ban in court and on the ground.