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Cleveland Clinic Medical Trainee Sues to Come Back to U.S.

Dr. Suha Abushamma was denied entry to this country Saturday, hours after President Trump signed an executive order temporarily banning visitors from seven countries.

A Cleveland Clinic doctor barred from entering the United States over the weekend by President Donald Trump’s travel ban is suing the president and his administration, seeking a writ of habeas corpus and an order that would allow her to come back.

The president’s executive order barred visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for at least 90 days while the government comes up with methods to more thoroughly screen them. The order, however, has ensnared doctors like Suha Abushamma, a first-year internal medicine resident, who already had been working in this country and were abroad when it was signed.

Abushamma, a Sudanese citizen, was visiting family in Saudi Arabia when friends encouraged her to come back quickly because of rumors about a Trump travel ban. Abushamma landed in the U.S. at 11 a.m. Saturday and was held for about nine hours before being forced to leave the country. Her plane took off around the same time as a federal district judge in Brooklyn issued a temporary stay blocking the government from removing people like her.

ProPublica interviewed her while she was flying back to Saudi Arabia and published a story before she landed.

Abushamma’s situation has attracted attention from the leadership of the Cleveland Clinic, as well as Ohio’s two senators. Lawyers for the firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, working pro bono on Abushamma’s behalf, filed an amended petition Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn asking the judge to let her come back into the country. During a hectic stretch on Saturday, lawyers had filed an emergency application to prevent her from being kicked out, but the petition was not acted upon before she left.

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The lawsuit contends that Abushamma was denied access to a lawyer and was unlawfully removed. It says she was told that she either had to voluntarily withdraw her visa application and leave the country or be deported, which would have prevented her from returning for five years. Abushamma asked an officer and supervisor with Customs and Border Protection to allow her to wait for the results of the legal hearing, but her request was denied.

In their legal pleadings filed Tuesday, Abushamma’s lawyers note that the federal district judge in Brooklyn, Ann Donnelly, told the government’s lawyers on Saturday night, “I’m going to direct you, if there’s somebody right now who is in danger of being removed, I am going to direct you to communicate that I have imposed a stay. Nobody is to be removed in this class, okay?”

According to a timeline assembled by the lawyers, Donnelly’s instruction appears to have come after Abushamma boarded her flight and after it pushed back from the gate, but before it took off just before 9 p.m. Dozens of other lawsuits have been filed across the country by people affected by Trump’s order.

Dr. Abby Spencer, program director for the Cleveland Clinic’s internal medicine residency program, said in a court filing that Abushamma graduated from medical school in Sudan at the top of her class and had received the “Best Overall Performance” award.

“Since matriculating to the program in July, she has been a stand-out physician and colleague,” Spencer wrote. “She has repeatedly and consistently demonstrated the utmost ethical standards and continued to prioritize patient needs.”

The lawyers also included a declaration from an Ohio lawyer, David Leopold, who said that he tried to help Abushamma on Saturday but that the Customs and Border Protection officer would not talk to him. He shared text messages that Abushamma sent him, desperate for help.

Suha Abushamma (Courtesy of Faris El-Khider)

On Monday, then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates said the Justice Department would not defend Trump’s order in court. Shortly thereafter, Trump fired her and replaced her with an appointee who said he would defend the action.

“It is time to get serious about protecting our country,” Trump said in a statement on Monday night. “Calling for tougher vetting for individuals travelling from seven dangerous places is not extreme. It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country.”

In a statement Sunday, the Cleveland Clinic said it is “fully committed” to the safe return of its employees affected by the action. The Cleveland Clinic’s CEO, Dr. Toby Cosgrove, is an adviser to Trump and withdrew his name from consideration to be secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The clinic is planning a fundraiser next month at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida. A group of medical students and others have drafted a letter asking the clinic to reconsider and cancel the event in solidarity with Abushamma.

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