Sahar Algonaimi was on her way to help her mother, who was undergoing surgery, when she was detained in Chicago. She was denied entry to the U.S. based on President Trump's executive order temporarily prohibiting entry for migrants from seven mostly Muslim countries and all refugees. She recorded her story for The Washington Post on her cell phone from the airport in Abu Dhabi. (Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post)

Sahar Algonaimi was planning to stay in the United States for only one week. Her 76-year-old mother was undergoing surgery.

Algonaimi, a Syrian citizen, left Saudi Arabia on Friday. When she landed in Chicago the next day, she turned over her passport. She showed officials a doctor’s letter about the procedure that her mother, Isaaf Jamaleddin, faced. She told them that she had lived in Riyadh for more than 30 years.

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But Algonaimi was told that she wouldn’t be allowed in the United States because of President Trump’s executive order banning entry of citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

“I can’t describe to you how I felt — the disrespect for humanity, I am here to visit my sick mother,” Algonaimi, a first-grade teacher, said Sunday from the Middle East. “There is no good reason for me to not be able to enter. It’s a feeling of utter despair.”

At Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Algonaimi’s teenage nieces were waiting to pick up their aunt, said her sister, Nour Ulayyet. Finally, Ulayyet received a call from customs officials, asking if she was waiting for someone.

“I said yes,” Ulayyet said. “And they said, ‘Well, we have her right here, and she cannot come in.’ ”

Isaaf Jamaleddin. (Photo courtesy of Nour Ulayyet)
Isaaf Jamaleddin. (Courtesy of Nour Ulayyet)

Ulayyet, a U.S. citizen who lives in Indiana, begged the officials: Could Algonaimi please come in for just one day? It was an emergency situation. Maybe someone could come with her, such as an agent. Algonaimi also was pleading.

“I started crying, and I said, ‘How is it possible that I got all the way here and I can’t even see my mother?’ ” Algonaimi said. “I told them, ‘Please let me go see her, one of you can come with me just so I can see her and then I’ll go right back.’  They said there is no way.”

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Customs officials would not relent. They put Algonaimi on a plane back home.

After Jamaleddin came out surgery, Ulayyet was beside her in the recovery room.

Her mother took her hand and, speaking in Arabic, asked: Were they at the airport, waiting for Sahar?


Isaaf Jamaleddin, left, and her daughter, Sahar Algonaimi. (Courtesy of Nour Ulayyet)

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