It has been a week since Labed Al-Hanfy, his wife and two of his daughters arrived in the United States from Iraq.

He hopes it will be only days more before his third daughter arrives, too.

But it’s still uncertain when 20-year-old Banah can travel to the U.S. in the wake of President Trump’s executive order that banned people from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iraq, from entering the U.S. for 90 days. The family is hopeful that a federal court ruling in Boston that put a seven-day hold on enforcing the order will allow Banah time to escape the danger she faces in Iraq and come to Maine this week.

Al-Hanfy, 49, his wife, Soso, and two daughters, Jumana, 19, and Omaima, 13, arrived in New Jersey from Baghdad on Jan. 24 and flew to Portland the next day. Al-Hanfy said the family had been threatened in Iraq because he had worked as an interpreter for the U.S. Army and other U.S. agencies.

Banah, a student at the American University in Iraq, was supposed to arrive in the U.S. within days of her family, but could not make the trip because of the president’s order.

Al-Hanfy, who is staying with family members in Portland until he lines up his own housing, said last weekend that his daughter is in a dangerous situation, because people have started to notice that the entire family left the country in the middle of the night. His daughter is alone, anxious and scared, he said.


“She is not safe, that is what we all worry about,” said Aqeel Mohialdeen, the brother with whom Al-Hanfy and his family are staying. “The situation is truly horrible there. Her father is not with her to protect her.”

Mohialdeen said the family has been working with several people, including a lawyer, to help bring Banah to Maine from Iraq. He declined to provide details about who the family is working with because of safety concerns.

After an article about the family’s situation ran in the Portland Press Herald, the family received an outpouring of support through Facebook and phone calls, Mohialdeen said. Many people welcomed Al-Hanfy and his family to Maine and said the order on immigration does not reflect American values, he said.

“People, they are really nice here in Maine, there’s no doubt about that,” Mohialdeen said. “They are welcoming and supportive.”

On Sunday, two federal judges in Boston issued a temporary stay on the president’s executive order. The ruling puts a seven-day hold on enforcement of the order and states that no approved refugee, holder of a valid visa, lawful permanent resident or traveler from the seven Muslim-majority nations can be detained or removed in the next seven days solely based on the executive order.

The order also instructed customs and border protection officials to notify international airlines with flights to Logan Airport that individuals would not be detained or returned based on the order.


While other federal judges have issued similar orders in other states, news reports have said that some Customs and Border Patrol agents have defied the federal judges and are continuing to detain immigrants from the banned countries at some airports.

Mohialdeen said the family feels a sense of urgency because the judge’s stay is only good for a few days.

“The issue is with the airlines,” said Mohialdeen, editor-publisher of Maine’s first Arabic-language newspaper, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. “The folks (we are working with) are trying to find any airline to allow her to get on the plane.”

The family began planning to leave Iraq in 2013, when their lives there became difficult. Al-Hanfy applied for a special immigrant visa at that time, and the family was granted visas last summer. They then began planning their exit, which involved leaving in the middle of the night with only their clothes and family photographs. They did not say goodbye to friends and only a few family members knew of their plans.

However, Banah didn’t receive her visa until this month and needed more time before she could depart.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

Twitter: @grahamgillian

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