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Yemeni Family Settles In The Valley After Being Named In Supreme Court Case

Monica Velez
Nageeb Alomari and his 11-year-old daughter, Shaema, in their Visalia home.

The Alomari family arrived in the San Joaquin Valley from Yemen in June. They settled into a small apartment in Visalia and have been adjusting to their new lives. 

Now that they’re thousands of miles away from the Yemeni civil war, things are a lot better than they used to be. Nageeb Alomari, a U.S citizen, went to Yemen to bring his wife and three daughters to the U.S because their living conditions were getting dangerous, especially for one of his daughters, Shaema. 

Shaema is 11-years-old and has cerebral palsy. She can’t speak, walk or eat on her own. She’s laying down on a bed in the living room.

Alomari speaks little English, so a translator is joining us for the interview in their home. 

Alomari says Shaema is “famous” and the girl everyone knows. Her story gained national media attention when they were named in the Supreme Court case in June, Trump v. Hawaii, that upheld the travel ban.

One of the reasons the court upheld the ban is because the justices ruled it was no longer a ban on all Muslims. There are exceptions to the ban for certain people, like Shaema, who can apply for a waiver. If granted a waiver they will get a visa.

To be approved for a waiver, people have to prove it would be in the national interest, a denial would cause “undue hardship,” and they aren’t a threat to national security or public safety.

“ [I] couldn’t believe that this court was talking to him directly and they’re like discussing [my] case specifically," Alomari says. "[I] feel like ‘Oh, am I that important? Of course, I’m an American citizen, but is it really that important?’ [I] feel like the whole state [is] supporting [me] the whole people in America were supporting [me] and that [I'm] so proud to be an American citizen.”

Only Alomari and his youngest daughter are U.S citizens. So,  Alomari says he was trying to get waivers for his other two daughters and wife. They were denied at first but then were granted waivers.

“Because the entry ban applied to Yemen among other countries individuals who had family members or other relatives in Yemen were among the people who were injured by the executive order,” says Leah Litman, an assistant professor of law at UC Irvine and this Fall semester is a visiting clinical professor at Stanford Law School.

Litman says how the waiver systems operated was relevant to the claims in the case about whether the overall system created by the order was lawful.

After the Supreme Court decision, there have been waivers granted. As of Aug. 31, 1,607 were granted, according to the state department’s website.

But there are dozens of more people in the Valley who have been impacted by this travel ban.

“The travel ban has hurt a lot of people whether it’s green card holders also people who are actually, like myself, or even citizens who have been born here but have found a spouse or have gotten married back in Yemen and had difficulties bringing in their wives and or husbands of children and vice versa,” says Naseem Hamud, whose family emigrated here from Yemen.

Hamud says for decades Yemeni’s have been living all throughout the Valley and many aren’t aware of that. He says he has many family friends who are still trying to get waivers. But, it's tough.

“With this new travel ban it’s almost made nearly impossible because there’s not even an embassy in Yemen now," Hamud says. "If you’d like to do any travel paperwork you’d have to go to some of the other countries such as Malaysia or Djibouti which is in Africa.”

And that’s exactly what Alomari and his family had to do. They traveled to Djibouti to apply for their waivers.

Alomari says people in Yemen still keep in contact with him and ask him about how he was able to be granted waivers. He says many still have hope they can escape the war and make it to the United States. 

Alomari has some roots in the Valley. He says he lived in Visalia before and wanted to settle here with his family because he has other Yemeni friends in town who all support each other.

When he brought his family here from Yemen, Alomari says they helped him get an apartment, help bring Shaema to her doctor appointments or help with translating. 

“[I] feel everything is being settled down for [me] and for the family, but [I] will be even better ...  after getting Shaema to the rest of her treatment and feeling Shaema is in very secure hands,” he says.

Shaema is doing a lot better here. In Yemen, Alomari says they couldn’t get a hold of the medication she needed after the hospital collapsed. He says they had to depend on smuggled medication that was also expired and not as effective. 

“Back in Yemen [we] couldn’t set her any doctor appointments, just once every six months," Alomari says. "Nowadays here in the states, the doctor visits her and checks on her once weekly. So this is awesome for the family."

Now she’s getting the care she needs at Valley Children’s Hospital.

Alomari says after he drops his other two daughters off at school he and his wife Asma like to take Shaema out for a walk. He says his middle daughter, Salma has been doing well.

“She’s doing very well evolving in the new environment and the new culture," Alomari says. "Language is very easy for her but the youngest one she has some difficulties regarding the language and getting along with the kids because she’s only in kindergarten right now.”

Monica Velez was a reporter at Valley Public Radio. She started out as a print reporter covering health issues in Merced County at the Merced Sun-Star.