Sisters Abeer Abdelrahman and Areej Ali can’t picture life without each other.
“My sister is my best friend, so we’re always together, since we were little — we were inseparable,”Abdelrahman told theGrio.com in a recent interview.
It’s why when Abdelrahman got engaged, she knew exactly who to call to give the good news and who to ask to be her maid of honor: her sister Areej.
“I felt very happy that she asked me to be her maid of honor, and as my little sister, I would do everything and anything for her,” Ali said.
Abdelrahman wanted to get married in Sudan, a place she hadn’t been in 26 years. It’s where her parents are from and where many of her family members still live. She and her family moved to America in 1993.
“I wanted the family to be together. I wanted my parents to share that moment with their brothers and sisters that they haven’t seen in over 20 years and just felt it would be more meaningful.”
She had a traditional Sudanese wedding back in December, and her ceremony became a reunion to remember for a family that had been apart for more than two decades.
“It was really magical,” Ali said.
The wedding story quickly took a turn for the worse, and Abdelrahman’s honeymoon turned into horror, when President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning travel from seven predominately Muslim countries that included Sudan.
Ali is a green card holder and permanent U.S. resident. She and her mother, a U.S. citizen, stayed in Sudan after the wedding to reconnect with family. Ali’s sister called her to let her know about the ban and instructed them to get on the next plane to the United States.
“I didn’t know what to do. I felt very helpless. I just knew that I needed to act quickly and try to get my family back home,” Abdelrahman said. ” I understand [Trump wants] to make the country safe, but separating families does not make anything better.”
Ali boarded a flight from Sudan, but when she got to Saudi Arabia, the airline told her she could not fly home. (Saudi Arabia was her connection to Los Angeles.) Her mother fought to stay with her.
They called Abdelrahman to let her know.
“I didn’t know if I was going to be able to make it back home or not. I was separated from my family[….] it was so much mixed emotions, sad then depressed, not knowing what’s going to happen,” Ali said.
Abdelrahman did the only thing she knew she could do: she worked the phones and contacted lawyers for help.
“At one point, I just thought that I wasn’t going to see my sister for a long time and I didn’t know what to expect.” Abdelrahman added, “For 48 hours, I hardly slept. I was making phone calls and just trying to do everything that I can to try to make sure that they got here safely.”
After lawyers provided documents needed to verify Ali was a permanent U.S. resident, 12 hours later, she was able to board the plane to the United States.
But her ordeal was still not over.
When she landed at the LAX airport, she was detained.
“I felt less than,” Ali said. “As soon as I got to the counter, right away — I don’t know if it was some kind of psychological tactic to see how I was — but they asked me, ‘Why are you nervous?’ And my response back to them: ‘I’m not nervous.'”
Officials continued to interrogate Ali. She couldn’t use her cell phone or make phone calls.
“I couldn’t believe this was happening to me, so I don’t know what’s more to come,” Ali said.
Fortunately, two hours later, airport authorities released Ali. And there to greet her on her return back home was of course her sister.
“We’re always there for each other, so her being there for me at this time — that’s my sister, I knew she would fight for me as I would do for her, and all of this just means the world to me,” Ali said.
” I just felt so happy and relieved that she was home. I just hope and pray that the other families that are going through the same thing are reunited with their loved ones,” Abdelrahman said.
Ashantai Hathaway is a reporter at theGrio. Keep up with her on Twitter @ashantaih83