10-year-old girl stuck in Middle East due to immigration delay reunited with family in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- 10-year-old Raghad Saleh has been reunited with her family in San Francisco after being stuck in the Middle East for the past five weeks.

"I'm going to hug her so much!" is how Maya, 8, describes the upcoming reunion with her sister. Raghad arrives at San Francisco International Airport Thursday night.

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"It seems ridiculous and it seems like overkill. This 10-year-old girl needs two waivers to come to the U.S. to be with the rest of her family?" says Amir Naim, an immigration attorney with the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, or CAIR. He is one of the attorneys in Saleh's case.

Like many, the Saleh family are fleeing the civil war and famine raging in Yemen.

Her paternal grandfather is an American citizen, who has been living in the U.S. for the past few decades. Her grandfather sponsored her father, who moved to the United States in 2016 to get a job and an apartment, before his wife and four children arrive, including Raghad.

In February, the family went to Cairo to get their immigration visa, since the U.S. embassy in Yemen is closed due to the unrest.

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Once in Cairo, the family's visas were approved, except for Raghad's. Naim says her visa was delayed, without much explanation.

The family asked for an extension, in the chance that Raghad's visa would be approved and so they could all travel together. However, that request was denied. With the threat of losing their immigration on July 1, and being deported from Egypt, Raghad's mother made the difficult decision to leave Raghad behind and head to the United States with her three other children.

Since then, Raghad has been stuck in Egypt for the past five weeks, staying with another Yemeni family, whom the family barely knows.

"Obviously Raghad was distraught. She was crying every day on the phone. She is a scared and depressed girl. I mean she is this 10-year-old girl, (who) doesn't know what's going to happen to her," explains Naim.

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After a political fight, led by the Yemeni American Association of the Bay Area, Raghad's visa was finally approved. She arrived in New York City on Wednesday, where she was greeted by her father, who brought her to San Francisco.

"We are going to do a little celebration and birthday party," says Asma, 14, in Arabic. She is Raghad's eldest sister.

Naim says this is a win for the family but adds that these types of delays seem politically motivated.

He says the Saleh's had to overcome the so-called Muslim travel ban because they are from Yemen. And because of the delay, Raghad faced another obstacle in the form of President Trump's recent proclamation denying immigration through the end of the year, citing high unemployment due to COVID-19.

"Sure, if this was one case, yeah, they made a mistake. That's terrible, we're glad it got sorted out. But the administration had a very clear pattern, in the most terrible interpretation, disregarding children's need to be with their parents," says Naim.
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