After Delays Due To Travel Ban, Syrian Family Has Emotional Reunion

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Tawfik Assali (center) of Allentown, Pa., embraces his sister, Sarah Assali, upon her and other family members' arrival from Syria at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York Monday.

It's been a long week for the Assali family.

The Assalis are Syrian Orthodox Christians. They are not refugees. But when they arrived last week with visas and green cards, they were put back on a plane to Qatar. Then they got word that as green card holders, they would be allowed into the U.S.

On Monday morning at Kennedy Airport in New York, Ghassan Assali and his family stood clutching each other, waiting for a glimpse of their six relatives.

"I'm too emotional, you know," Ghassan said. "I'm gonna cry."

The six grabbed their luggage from baggage claim and everyone embraced.

It was an emotional reunion 13 years in the works. It was supposed to happen last weekend, but President Trump's executive orders disrupted those plans. Matthew Assali and five others were detained and put on a plane back to the Middle East.

"On the plane, all of us was very scared, and we don't know what happened," Matthew said. "We played by the rules. We don't do anything wrong."

Assali's brother and other family members live in Allentown, Pa. He's long wanted to join them and escape his war-torn country.

"For better future, for better opportunities," Matthew said.

A lawsuit on behalf of the Assalis, which the government didn't oppose, and the support of elected officials made the second trip successful.

Still, on this flight to New York, 20-year-old Sarah Assali felt nervous. As she spoke, her aunt, Sarmad, translated her words from Arabic to English.

"She was very scared, and really worried that they weren't going to make it here, even though they were on the road," Sarmad said. "She's very thankful to everyone that helped them get here."

Outside JFK, Republican Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, who has criticized Trump's actions on immigration, said the Assalis' story shows that many Americans want to welcome Syrians to resettle here.

"We're celebrating the rule of law today," Dent said. "We're celebrating fairness and justice. And most of all, we're celebrating a wonderful family."

The celebration will continue in Allentown. The family dinner Sarmad planned last week will happen Monday.

"And hopefully tomorrow is a new day, where we start with school registration, and we build our future," Sarmad said.

It's a future she hopes will one day take them back to their native Damascus, but as long as the Syrian conflict continues, they'll keep building their lives in the United States.

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