Baby Sham and her mother ()
One of the Syrian refugees whose resettlement plan was abruptly squashed Friday when President Donald Trump signed an executive order blocking people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States is a Reed Smith client who is just a year old.
Sham Aldaher was born in July 2015 with a disfigured face. In June, with help from lawyers and other advocates, she received permission to travel to Barcelona, where a children’s hospital has performed three pro bono surgeries to widen the orbit of her eye.
The child and her family of six were fast-tracked for resettlement to the United States and have cleared all medical and security checks, her lawyer, Reed Smith counsel Jayne Fleming, said. They were supposed to be able to travel to the United States once the child’s medical care was complete, which should be in about a month, after she receives an eye implant.
But the child, who is known as Baby Sham to the international team of at least 100 doctors, lawyers and government officials who have worked on her case, is still in Spain and will now will be barred from entering the United States, Fleming confirmed in an email. The Reed Smith lawyer wrote to The American Lawyer from Jordan, where she is working on dozens of refugee resettlement cases.
“Yesterday her mother sent me a message expressing despair over what is happening in the [United] States and fear over what is going to happen to her family,” Fleming wrote late Saturday. “She said she just wants to be safe and go somewhere where they can rebuild their lives.”
Reed Smith has about 100 refugee clients, many of whom the firm is trying to resettle by obtaining medical evacuations through expedited resettlement from the United Nations or humanitarian parole, which the Department of Homeland Security can issue temporarily for medical reasons.
Fleming said the firm’s other clients, who are still currently in Jordan, include:
- a Syrian child with cancer that she said would be curable with chemotherapy and surgery
- a young Iraqi woman with paraplegia, a condition that Fleming said could improve with physiotherapy, surgery and rehab
- two Syrian children facing near blindness, which she said could be corrected with surgery
- three severely disabled Iraqi siblings with neurological conditions
- and a 12-year-old Syrian girl who was imprisoned with other children and needs surgery and rehabilitation to recover from her injuries.
“Slamming shut the doors to the United States of America, which has rigorously vetted refugees for years, is an attack on the basic accepted notion that people should be able to flee for their lives,” said Jason Cone, executive director of Doctors Without Borders in the United States, which works with Reed Smith on many of their cases.
European countries are accepting a very limited number of refugees from Jordan, according to Fleming, meaning the United States is one of a few good options for a safe resettlement. There is significant pressure for the European Union to accept refugees from Turkey because of a deal struck between the two entities last March, and the continent is already coping with the migration of hundreds of thousands fleeing the Syrian war. There are currently 664,100 refugees living in Jordan and 2.5 million in Turkey, according to the United Nations.
Trump’s executive order bars Syrian refugees from entering the United States indefinitely, bars refugees from all countries from entering the country for 120 days and blocks any citizens (refugees or otherwise) from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering for 90 days, The New York Times and other outlets have reported.
On Saturday, federal judges in New York, Virginia, Massachusetts and Washington issued rulings that prevented the government from forcing refugees with visas to return to their home countries. The rulings came after thousands protested at airports across the country, where refugees who had been in flight when the order was signed were being held.
Lawyers have emerged as heroes for those opposing the ban. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in Brooklyn against the ban, prompting a judge in New York to issue the first order that limited its impact. Photos of groups of lawyers working on their laptops at various international airports to try to help those being held made the rounds on social media on Saturday night.
Many of the lawyers who volunteered their services over the weekend work for Am Law 100 firms, including Kirkland & Ellis, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, which filed the lawsuit in New York with the ACLU.
Fleming encouraged lawyers who are willing to work in the field to go to Jordan where she and others are trying to find ways beyond traditional refugee resettlement to relocate the people there who are fleeing the war in Iraq and Syria.
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