03:01 - Source: CNN
Husband: Wife was detained overnight
Washington DC CNN  — 

Since they were middle school buddies in Aleppo, the two men’s lives have followed similar paths.

They both went to medical school. They both fled Syria when the bloody civil war broke out. They both ended up in the United States to train as doctors.

And now here they were, in the baggage claim terminal at Washington Dulles International Airport – worried sick whether they’d see their wives again.

Muhamad Alhaj Moustafa and Said Hajouli’s situation have been playing out dozens and dozens of times across the country this weekend when President Trump, with one sweep of his pen, banned citizens from seven Muslim-majority country from entering the US. Among them is Syria.

8 a.m. Saturday

Moustafa texts his wife, telling her there may be a problem when you land. The President of the United States has signed an executive order that could bar her from leaving the airport. She has a J2 visa, the kind given to spouses of immigrants. And she’s lived in the US for almost a year. But her passport is Syrian. And it’s that passport with which she’d traveled to visit family in Qatar three weeks earlier.

Muhamad Alhaj Moustafa

When she lands at Dulles, Moustafa’s wife is met by Customs and Border Protection agents. She sends her husband frantic text messages, tells him she’s being asked to sign papers she doesn’t understand.

Moustafa feels helpless. For the next few hours, dejected and despairing, he recounts his wife’s story to the lawyers who’ve arrived at Dulles, offering to help.

There’s nothing they can do. His wife had been put back on a plane to Doha.

7 p.m. Saturday


Hajouli’s wife’s flight lands in Dulles from Istanbul. She’d been living in Turkey until now, and he’s been looking forward to their reunion.

“I haven’t seen her in almost two years,” he says. “We got married before I had to leave for America. It’s been a very long time.”

Before he got to the airport, he’d heard the stories. The interminable wait for family members. The uncertainty of where they were.

Hajouli called his wife before she left Istanbul, telling her she might run into issues and to text him as soon as she touched down.

She texts him. She’s been detained for further assessment.

8 p.m. Saturday

The men wait. They pace, they fret. Men with similar stories, all in the same predicament.

Around them, an army of protesters chant and rally. They hold up signs: “Refugees welcome here.” “No ban, no wall.” “Let them in.”

Then, a glimmer of hope.

News circulates through the crowd the courts have intervened.

A federal judge in New York ruled that those who’ve already arrived can’t be sent back. Another judge in Virginia said detained travelers had a right to see a lawyer.

The rulings generate a flurry of excitement. Lawyers crowd around the entrance to a hallway, trying to catch the attention of customs agents.

But they’re not allowed in.


Hours pass.

Around midnight, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker arrives and is quickly ushered down the hallway the lawyer had been stalking.

He’s there to deliver a copy of the Virginia judge’s order. But he too is unable to speak to customs officials directly, and has to work through an intermediary: the airport police.

A few minutes later, he reemerges and positions himself in the middle of the demonstrators.

The passengers who are detained will be released soon, he says.

The crowd erupts in cheers.

“But I’m telling you right now, tomorrow more people will be trying to come into our country. And what frustrates me is they’re being singled out now simply because of how they have decided to pray, and their country of origin,” he says. “That has to be unacceptable to every American, no matter what your faith.”

A detained traveler reacts after being cleared through

Soon afterward, passengers begin to trickle out through the arrivals door. There are hugs and tears all around.

The baggage area begins to empty out. Protesters and lawyers call it a night, many planning to come back early the following morning.

But there’s no sign of Hajouli’s wife.

2 a.m. Sunday

Hajouli prays with others while waiting for his wife

What was once a crowd of hundreds has dwindled to maybe 30 or 40. For them, the wait hasn’t ended. They spend the time praying.

“She’s not getting out tonight,” Rob Robertson tells Hajouli. He’s a lawyer who’s volunteered to help Hajouli.

“She’s being given quote-unquote ‘a comfortable place to sleep,’” he says, the sarcasm clear in his voice.

Hajouli is very upset. But he’s hopeful. The support from lawyers like Robertson and the hundreds of demonstrators has buoyed him.

“This feels like a family,” he says.

Then he reluctantly heads home for the night.

2 p.m. Sunday

Hajouli’s wife is finally released. And the couple is reunited after two long years and one agonizing long day.

The exact terms are unclear, Robertson says. Now that her Turkish residency has expired, she may have to apply for asylum.

“She obviously can’t go back to Syria,” he says.

Hajouli will worry about that later. Right now, he just wants to spend time with her.

As for Moustafa, he doesn’t quite know what to do. His wife is back in Doha. Should he ask his wife to take another flight back? Or should he wait to see how things play out in the next few days?

“I was hopeless, but seeing this,” Muhammad says as he points to the crowds of people holding welcome signs, “this gives me hope.”

The names of the spouses have not been used at Hajouli and Moustafa’s request.