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‘She is not a terrorist’: Iranian baby caught in travel ban is granted entry for heart surgery

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) said, "keeping four-month-old babies out of our country does not make us safer." (Video: Reuters)

As Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) prepared to address her colleagues Friday morning in the House of Representatives, another woman adjusted a nearby easel with a large photograph of a wide-eyed baby girl.

“Mr. Speaker, this is Fatemeh,” Bonamici said. “She is not a terrorist.”

She explained the baby’s predicament: Fatemeh was a 4-month-old infant from Iran in “immediate need” of open-heart surgery. She had been diagnosed several weeks ago with structural abnormalities and two holes in her heart, and she would die unless she received treatment that Iranian hospitals were not equipped to provide, the Associated Press reported.

“Her parents desperately want the best care for her, so they planned to bring her from their home in Iran to Portland, Ore., to one of the best hospitals for pediatric heart surgery,” Bonamici said. “That’s where Fatemeh’s uncle and grandparents all live. They are U.S. citizens.”

However, the family soon found their plans in turmoil after President Trump’s executive order temporarily banning travelers and revoking visas from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Iran.

Justice Dept. lawyer says 100,000 visas revoked under travel ban; State Dept. says about 60,000

Trump signed orders on Jan. 27 not only to suspend admission of all refugees into the United States for 120 days but also to implement “new vetting measures” to screen out “radical Islamic terrorists.” Refugee entry from Syria, however, would be suspended indefinitely, and all travel from Syria and six other nations — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen — would be suspended for 90 days.

Fatemeh’s family had an appointment in Dubai to obtain a tourist visa to the United States, but it was abruptly canceled after Trump’s order, according to the AP. They were told they could reapply in 90 days.

“But Fatemeh’s family does not know if she can wait that long,” Bonamici said Friday on the House floor. “I don’t know what the president had in mind when he signed that order, but it probably wasn’t baby Fatemeh. Keeping 4-month-old babies out of our country doesn’t make us safer. It puts her life in danger and diminishes the United States in the eyes of the world.”

The family’s life-or-death situation had caught the attention of a group of lawmakers in Oregon, including Bonamici.

“It is heartbreaking and disgraceful that this even happened,” she said. “I hope the courts invalidate this unconstitutional Executive Order soon, and I hope it’s in time for baby Fatemeh.”

On Friday, several of those lawmakers filed for a waiver from the State Department and Homeland Security, the Oregonian reported.

“Whether [Fatemeh] and her family are allowed access to this urgent and necessary medical care in the United States will determine whether she lives or dies,” the lawmakers said, according to the newspaper. “Granting her family’s request to travel to the U.S. is not only the moral and humanitarian decision, but would signal to Iran and the rest of the world that, even in the face of highly strained diplomatic relations, the United States offers help to those suffering tragic circumstances.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told the Oregonian he couldn’t fathom a waiver wouldn’t be granted when “a little girl’s life is at stake.”

“The conversation in Washington, D.C., is about national security,” Merkley said, according to the newspaper. “The reality is that there are thousands of other people whose lives are being disrupted in similar ways.”

Late Friday night, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo released a statement indicating the baby and her family had been cleared for travel to the United States.

“This evening we were pleased to learn that the federal government has now granted Fatemeh Reshad and her family boarding documents to come to the United States,” Cuomo said in a statement. “We will continue to work with the International Refugee Assistance Project and their partners to ensure this baby receives the treatment she needs, and fight for those being unfairly shut out of America’s gates by this policy.”

“The right thing happened tonight,” Cuomo tweeted Friday.

Travelers from Iran board flights to the United States following stay, attorney says

The statement added the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison would pay for the family’s travel costs. Mount Sinai Hospital also offered to provide the surgery free, but attorneys told the Oregonian the family would still seek to have the baby treated at Oregon Health and Science University Hospital in Portland, as planned.

Jennifer Morrissey, a Portland immigration lawyer, told the newspaper she spoke with the infant’s uncle, Portland resident Samad Taghizadeh, on Friday night.

“I would describe him as extremely overwhelmed and grateful,” she told the Oregonian.

On Friday night, U.S. District Judge James L. Robart in Washington state issued a ruling that would temporarily block enforcement of Trump’s controversial ban. The following day, the State Department said it would reverse the revocation of visas under Trump’s executive order, allowing previously banned travelers to enter the United States.

Physicians in Portland said, Feb. 4, that they will perform heart surgery on a 4-month-old Iranian baby. (Video: Reuters)

Fatemeh had been born with a rare and complex form of congenital heart disease that affects about 2 in 10,000 newborns, said Dr. Laurie Armsby, a pediatric cardiologist at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, which is affiliated with OHSU.

“This is a fatal condition without treatment,” she said at a press conference Saturday, describing Fatemeh’s abnormal blood circulation as a result of her condition. “The timing of death is different in every child. This is not a circulation that is compatible with life over a long period of time.”

In the United States, a child with a similar condition would have been diagnosed and treated within the first week of life, then discharged from the hospital within a few weeks. Baby Fatemeh is different because she did not receive care immediately, Armsby said.

“That has complicated her condition,” Armsby said. “So the blood flow throughout her heart and lungs has certainly begun to injure her lungs.”

Doctors at the conference said that, while Iran has excellent hospitals, it is unlikely this procedure could be done there. By contrast, the Doernbecher Children’s Hospital sees about six to 10 of those operations in a year, according to Dr. Irving Shen, the surgeon who will operate on Fatemeh.

“From what we know about her condition, we anticipate a very good result, a surgery that will provide her a very active and full life,” Armsby said. “And we’re excited to get to meet her and her family.”

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