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Family's long road out of Iran began 12 years ago

By PAT GROSSMITH
New Hampshire Union Leader

February 08. 2017 11:30PM
Reza Jalili, a professor at New England College, right, poses with his brother Hamid Reza Jalili, and his brother's family members including wife Bahareh Khaniesi and daughters Helia, 19, and Haniya, 12, at his home in Bedford. The family, from Iran, got caught up in the travel ban last week. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

BEDFORD -- An Iranian mom, dad and two daughters who waited years for visas to enter the United States have been reunited with family in New Hampshire — but only after showing up at the airport in Tehran two days in a row and facing a heart-rending choice.

Even though a federal judge had temporarily blocked President Trump’s travel ban, anesthesiologist Hamid Reza Jalili, 51, and his pediatrician wife, Bahareh Khamesi, 48, were told last Saturday by officials that only their 12-year-old, Haniya, could accompany them to America — not 19-year-old Helia.

No reason was given.

Helia told her parents they had to get on the plane.

“If they didn’t come, I couldn’t come,” said Helia, who along with her family was interviewed Wednesday in Bedford, where they are temporarily staying with Reza Jalili of Bedford, Jalili’s brother and a professor of economics and accounting at New England College.

On Saturday, the three Jalilis got on the Lufthansa jet and Helia went home to stay with her grandmother, Khamesi’s mother. Khamesi and younger daughter Haniya cried the entire plane ride to Frankfurt, Germany. They were reunited later that day with Hamid’s brother and mother, Ozra Jalili, 84, of Manchester.

On Sunday, another ticket was purchased for Helia, who went to the airport. This time she was cleared for a flight to Frankfurt and then to Boston.

Dr. Jalili said being separated from his oldest daughter was incredibly stressful.

“The last day was the most, most stressful in all my life, leaving my daughter behind,” he said.

Jalili and his wife say they wanted to come to America for their daughters, so they could receive a better education and because there are more opportunities for them here.

Having obtained their documents, the doctors sold their practices and a lot of other property with plans to return to Iran in June to sell their home.

The family went through a 12-year vetting process, Jalili said. They all have their green cards, obtained after interviews by the FBI, Homeland Security and the State Department. They had face-to-face interviews twice at the American consulate in Ankara, Turkey, because there is no U.S. embassy in Tehran.

“We’d been vetted enough,” Khamesi said.

The Jan. 27 executive order hurt people who followed the rules, the family said. But a small window opened last Friday when a federal judge temporarily blocked the order and the family tried to fly out of Tehran.

The family’s elation quickly turned to devastation when they were prevented from boarding a plane.

They were turned away because their green cards were not stamped or “endorsed” by U.S. Customs & Border Protection. Professor Jalili got in touch with George Bruno, former ambassador to Belize and general counsel at USA Group International in Manchester, as well as U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan. Shaheen assigned a staff person to their case.

On Saturday, the family returned to the airport — buying another four tickets — and were faced with leaving a daughter behind.

Ironically, the family had wanted to come in January before President Trump’s inauguration.

Professor Jalili asked them to wait because he was having some renovations done on his home and wanted to be able to accommodate them. He assured them that the United States was a nation of laws and that there would be no problem.

“Boy, did I have egg on my face,” he said.

Professor Jalili came alone to America 40 years ago when he was 18 years old. His father was in the Iranian military and was trained in the United States. His parents later came to live in Manchester, but his father since has died.

His brother was the last of his siblings in Iran. The others are in Sweden and England. Both he and his mother are American citizens.

The family reunion came at the cost of $10,000 worth of airline tickets purchased at the airport in Tehran. Lufthansa has said the family will be reimbursed the cost of the unused tickets.

pgrossmith@unionleader.com


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