A local family is pleading with elected officials to help their 65-year-old matriarch to leave war-torn Syria in pursuit of essential medical treatment in the United States.
Angham Aldawood came to the United States in 2010. A naturalized citizen, Aldawood arrived to the Golden Empire after leaving the Syrian city of Homs, the town where she was born and raised.
Months later, the country spiraled into a civil war responsible for the deaths of at least 400,000 people, and the displacement of more than 6 million, per the United States.
Now, Aldawood is worried about her 65-year-old mother, Sattata Assaf. Assaf lived through the horrors of the war, but is experiencing significant medical problems. Aldawood said if her mother does not receive the treatment, Assaf’s mounting medical issues could kill her.
“In early 2018 she had a car accident, hit by a car actually. She had a broken knee and her health started to degrade. “Afterwards, she started a lot of fainting. and so far we couldn’t find out the reason. After the first time she fainted, she broke her nose, her jaw, her teeth…I worry for her life…she can’t be left alone.”
Assaf saw many doctors in Syria, according to the family, but the doctors did not have the resources to provide treatment, per the family. They suggested Assaf come to the United States.
But the Syrian Christian family is facing a major obstacle. In 2017, President Donald Trump signed into law an executive order, often refereed to as the travel ban. The order restricts entry to the united states from seven nations, including Syria, and indefinitely suspended Syrian refugees from coming to the United States.
“It’s a nightmare,” Aldawood said of the process to get her mom on American soil. The family filed a formal petition with the U.S. embassy in Jordan last July to prove Assaf is eligible to come to the US, but the members of the family say they have received very little communication from the U.S. government.
A statement sent to the family from the embassy said the request is undergoing administrative processing, and could take can several weeks to complete. The family also has reached out to elected officials, but with little luck.
“We’ve been in contact now a total of 11 times with the White House, [but] with no response, said John Swain, Assaf’s son-in-law. “Sens. Harris and Feinstein — we’ve been in touch with their offices two times with no response,” he continued.
Family members say Bakersfield Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) and his office have been helpful.
“I was just talking to the family yesterday,” McCarthy said during an interview with KGET last week. “[We are] talking with the embassy in Jordan as we work through that and we’re hoping to get that done.”
As the family continues to wait for Assaf to be granted access to America, Aldawood has prepared a room at their Bakersfield home for her mother. They want this mother and grandmother to know she’s welcome, setting up this room for her.
“There should be no reason she’s not here,” said Swain. “She’s not a threat to the United States, not a burden to the United States, and it’s causing great undue hardship to citizens of the United States with her not being here.”
Even with the challenges, this family remains hopeful, excited for the day Assaf can see her 10-year-old granddaughter Lilly.
“She’s a very good American young girl,” Aldawood said of her daughter. “[Lilly] has a right to know her grandmother.”
“When we needed her, she was there for us in the hardest days. it’s time for her to be able to be with us when she is in that need for us.” Aldawood continued.
The family estimates there are roughly 300 to 400 Syrian Christians in Kern County.
A representative with Senator Harris’s office confirms they are looking into the matter.