This was a reunion 12 years in the making.
Ali Vayeghan was set to fly from Tehran to Los Angeles, make his way to Indiana, and after a years-long wait, see his son, a U.S. citizen. He was also reuniting with his wife, who arrived in the U.S. four months ahead of him.
Instead, Vayeghan was ensnared by President Trump’s executive order, held at Los Angeles International Airport for hours, and deported to Iran by way of Dubai.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California intervened, petitioning the courts to release him.
On Sunday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee issued an order instructing authorities to transport Vayeghan from Dubai to the U.S. — an infrequently used but not unprecedented legal remedy — and admit him under the terms of his visa, which is set to expire in February.
Citing the “irreparable harm” Vayeghan would face, Gee ruled that his attorneys had showed a strong likelihood of successfully arguing that his deportation violated federal law.
By then, Vayeghan was on a plane bound for Tehran.
“It’s a story about a son who wants to see his dad after 12 years, and just be with our family,” said Vayeghan’s niece, Marjan Vayghan, who lives in West Los Angeles. “We did not think this would be a big deal — we’d pick my uncle at LAX, eat, hang out, travel. We didn’t know our entire world would turn upside down.”
Vayeghan was set to land at 7:15 p.m. Friday, but he never emerged from customs, his niece said. The family waited at LAX until after 3 a.m. Saturday, with scant information about his whereabouts. Attorneys were not allowed to meet with him, the ACLU said.
The ACLU and L.A.-based immigration attorney Stacy Tolchin stepped in, filing a habeas corpus petition on Saturday and the legal aid organization published a copy of the petition online. Attorneys argued that Trump’s executive order violated Vayeghan’s due process and was hostile to a specific religion, Islam, putting it at odds with the 1st Amendment’s establishment clause.
The lawyers secured the necessary paperwork for his release, but it arrived about 45 minutes too late. Vayeghan was put on a plane to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, at 3:15 p.m. Saturday.
When his family contemplates the razor-thin margins of time that have worked against them at every step, it compounds their frustration.
“If he had left for Los Angeles one or two days earlier, he’d be fine,” his niece said. “If he hadn’t been deported a half hour earlier, he’d be fine.”
The family spoke to him by phone after he landed in Dubai, where he was waiting to be put on a flight to Tehran.
“We only have an hour and one minute,” Marjan Vayghan said Sunday afternoon. “My family is just here staring at the clock.
“He’s literally crying in the airport in Dubai,” she added.
The order from Gee, the federal judge, came down Sunday afternoon and called for Vayeghan to be transported back to the U.S.
The judge ruled Vayeghan’s lawyers had demonstrated “a strong likelihood of success in establishing that removal violates the Establishment Clause, the Immigration and Nationality Act, and his rights to equal protection guaranteed by the United States Constitution.”
The judge’s relief may have come too late.
Vayeghan’s plane was set to touch down in Tehran on Sunday evening.
His family did not know what would happen next.
10:20 p.m.: This article was updated with minor editing.
This article was originally published at 6:20 p.m.