February 7, 2017- The Executive Order issued by the Trump Administration prohibiting certain nationals from entering the U.S. on their previously valid visas impacted many of our clients. But perhaps none were impacted as much as the Syrian-American Assali family of Allentown, PA. Two Syrian brothers of the Assalis, as well as their wives and children, had successfully obtained immigrant visas following over a decade of waiting. In pursuit of the American Dream, they sold their houses and belongings and looked to begin a new life in the U.S., escaping from war-torn Syria. While their plane was en route to Philadelphia International Airport, President Trump signed the executive order. Shortly after landing, the family was then given the Hobson’s choice of landing in detention or departing for Doha, Qatar, and their immigrant visas were revoked. Fortunately, they had Jonathan Grode to assist.
Receiving a phone call from the family facing few options to get their loved ones back, Jonathan led a team of government officials and attorneys from six organizations, representing the family pro bono. On Sunday, January 29th, the U.S. contingent of the Assali family met with Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, fellow American Immigration Lawyers Association attorneys Joseph Hohenstein and Ayodele Gansallo and Allentown lawyer Susan Wilds at the Green and Spiegel Philadelphia office to put together a plan of action.
On January 29th, Hohenstein, Gansallo, and attorneys from four additional firms filed suit against President Trump and the Department of Homeland Security. That same day, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and the ACLU of Pennsylvania held a joint press conference with Jonathan and other members of the team in support of the suit. This case worked in tandem with litigation around the country -- following several courts’ blocking of Trump’s Executive Order, the Assali family was legally allowed to reenter the U.S., having their visas restored.
However, securing the Assalis return proved to be logistically difficult. As Syrian nationals who had returned to Damascus, the family needed to gain entry into the United Arab Emirates in order to board a flight to the United States. Jonathan, working with Pennsylvania Congressman Charles Dent’s office, negotiated with officials from the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in Washington to obtain a travel clearance for their entry into Abu Dhabi. Ultimately granted entry, the family was able to secure a return flight thanks to Governor Wolf’s personal efforts to pay for their flights. Upon clearing CBP preflight inspection in Abu Dhabi, the family was able to board the transatlantic flight and enter John F. Kennedy Airport on February 6th as Lawful Permanent Residents.
The Assali family’s story generated considerable media interest, including detailed reporting by national and international media outlets such as CNN, the BBC, the Hindustan Times, Fox Business, ABC, The Daily Beast and NPR. Newspapers across the state including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and the Allentown Morning Call also provided in-depth reporting.
Green and Spiegel salutes the work of our very own Jonathan Grode for his tireless efforts in bringing about this favorable result. We also wish to recognize fellow AILA attorneys Joseph Hohenstein and Ayodele Gansallo, the ACLU, as well as Governor Tom Wolf, Senator Robert Casey, and especially Congressman Charlie Dent who worked to secure the Assali family’s return to the United States and assumption of Lawful Permanent Residence.
“Without Jonathan and the rest of the team, our family would not have made it back to the United States” said Sarmad Assali. “Our family cannot express enough our sincere gratitude and thanks for everyone’s effort in making this possible.”