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Travel ban illegally used to deny visa to family fleeing Yemen civil war, lawsuit says

A woman and her two children are stuck in war-torn Sana'a, Yemen, seen here in 2010, after her visa was denied citing President Donald Trump's travel ban, according to a lawsuit. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Brent Stirton

A family fleeing the civil war in Yemen is suing the Trump administration, alleging federal officials illegally revoked their visa by retroactively citing the so-called “Muslim travel ban.”

The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed the lawsuit in federal court Monday on behalf of Saleh Almuganahi, a U.S. citizen of Yemeni descent whose wife and two children are living in the war-torn country. The suit names President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan as defendants.

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Almuganahi said his wife Afaf Al-Aidaros, a Yemeni citizen, was approved for a visa in October 2017, months before the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a hold on Trump’s presidential proclamation that banned people from Yemen and six other countries from entering the U.S.

Saleh Almuganahi, bottom left, has not seen his wife and two young children, pictured, in over a year, according to a lawsuit. Photo Credit: CAIR New York

At the time, Al-Aidaros was told to give her passport to U.S. Embassy officials to begin the process of printing her visa, according to the lawsuit. Instead, federal officials delayed issuing the paperwork for months and then denied her the visa after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the travel ban although the presidential proclamation cannot be applied retroactively, the suit alleges.

Almuganahi, a longtime resident of Queens, said his family is being punished for trying to escape a war zone.

“The moment our visa was approved was one of the happiest moments of our lives,” he said in a statement Monday. “I thought I would finally be reunited with my family. Instead, my family has been placed in an indefinite limbo.”

Yemen’s civil war has created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, according to the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator, which estimates that more than 17,700 civilians have been killed or injured since it began in 2015.

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Al-Aidaros and her two young children, who are U.S. citizens, are stuck in the city of Sana’a, where an attack in April killed 11 civilians, according to the UN. Almuganahi has not seen his family in over a year, according to the lawsuit.

“How does the president expect me to live my life knowing that my wife and two children are trapped in a war zone?” Almuganahi said. “As any husband and father, I just want my family out of harm’s way and safe in my arms.”

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CAIR-NY litigation director Ahmed Mohamed said Almuganahi’s situation is not uncommon in the Yemeni-American community, and denounced the Trump administration’s decision to deny the visa.

“Simply put, the administration is willing to stoop to any level to keep out Muslims and immigrants and effectuate its white supremacist agenda, including sending women and children to live in a war zone,” Mohamed said.

The lawsuit seeks an order from the U.S. Eastern District of New York declaring the Trump administration’s actions unlawful and mandating the issuance of Al-Aidaros’ visa.

Departments of the federal government do not typically comment on pending litigation, and a request for a statement from the Trump administration was not immediately returned.