Early on Sunday morning, Dr. Amer Al Homssi walked into Abu Dhabi International Airport with a ticket for a 4 A.M. flight to Chicago. He had flown in from Chicago, eleven days earlier, to get married. Now Al Homssi, who is twenty-four and a resident in internal medicine, needed to get back to his job, at the University of Illinois College of Medicine/Advocate Christ Medical Center, in Oak Lawn, Illinois. When he arrived at the airport, he had an Illinois driver’s license and valid J-1 visa to work in the United States. But he was born in Syria and carries a Syrian passport. Al Homssi was not permitted to board the airplane.
A lawsuit, filed on his behalf in federal court in Illinois yesterday, states that, at the Etihad Airways counter, an airline representative noticed his Syrian passport and made a call. The representative checked his luggage, but told him to go to U.S. pre-clearance to receive approval to leave the country. At U.S. pre-clearance, a security officer “took his passport, his form DS-2019 (a supplementary document to his J-1 visa), and his boarding pass,” according to the complaint. “The officer took his fingerprints and then ordered him to a secondary security check room.”
There, another officer searched his phone, wallet, and luggage, and reviewed his school transcript and work contract. The officer asked a few questions, “but no questions about whether Dr. Al Homssi was affiliated in any way with a designated terrorist organization.” Finally, a third officer told Al Homssi that he was being refused entry because of President Trump’s executive order, which bars citizens of Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries for the next ninety days. Al Homssi was escorted out, allowed to get his luggage, and given his passport back. According to his lawsuit, “When Dr. Al Homssi looked at his passport, he noticed that the J-1 visa page had been marked diagonally with a fat black marker pen drawn through it, and in blue pen along that black mark, it was written: ‘Cancelled E.O. 59447v.8.’ ”
Al Homssi was supposed to be at work today, seeing patients. Instead, he remains in the United Arab Emirates while three lawyers—Thomas Anthony Durkin, Robin V. Waters, and Bernard E. Harcourt—are toiling on his behalf. Yesterday, they submitted to the court a legal complaint as well as a number of exhibits, including a letter from his supervisor stating that “his performance has been excellent at all levels. His timely presence is critically needed to continue providing patient care at our hospital.”
“He’s in a more precarious position because he’s on a J-1 visa—a medical-residency visa for work—than someone who’s a permanent resident,” Harcourt told me. “I imagine there are a lot of people in similar situations, but we’re probably not hearing from them because they were so brutally deterred at the border.” (Another medical resident, Suha Abushamma, who has a Sudanese passport and a work visa, has also filed a lawsuit; she landed at John F. Kennedy Airport last weekend, but then was forced to leave the country.) Harcourt continued, “When somebody defaces your visa and brands it with the executive order on your passport—that’s his only passport—few people would think there’s any way they could move around, even to other countries.” A professor at Columbia Law School, Harcourt was speaking from the airport, on his way to Chicago. “We’re headed to court to get as swift a resolution as possible,” he said.