Angham Aldawood jumps every time her phone beeps to let her know that she has received an email.
Sometimes the sound wakes her at night at her home in southwest Bakersfield, and she checks the glowing screen from her bed, hoping that after months of waiting she’ll get the update she’s waiting for.
Aldawood, 37, who comes from a Christian family in Homs, an eastern city in Syria, arrived to the United States in 2010. She left her job as an English teacher to move to the country.
She has since become a naturalized citizen, and hopes to bring her mother to Bakersfield to live with her and her husband, who served in the U.S. Army for eight years with deployments to Saudi Arabia and South Korea.
He now works as a field engineer for a local printer company.
Aldawood’s mother, Sattata Assaf, was hit by a car in March 2018, and her health has been deteriorating since the accident.
Aldawood said her mother, who is a 65-year-old widow, sporadically faints. For the past three weeks, she has mostly remained in bed.
Two Syrian doctors provided written statements to the U.S. Embassy in neighboring Jordan saying Assaf would need to travel outside of Syria to be treated for her condition.
“We pray before dinner every day,” Aldawood said, tears welling in her eyes. “She’s not part of the prayer. She should be here.”
Immigration from Syria is extremely difficult due to a travel ban instituted by President Donald Trump in September 2017.
The ban prohibited travel to America from seven countries, including Syria, in an effort to protect the the U.S. from potential threats from those countries.
A small number of immigrants are granted waivers from the ban. Applicants must prove that being denied entry would cause undue hardship, not pose a threat to national security, and be in the national interest of the country.
Aldawood says her mother meets the three criteria, and after an interview with Assaf, the U.S. Embassy in Jordan determined that she was potentially eligible for a waiver.
But for the past six months, Aldawood and her husband, John Swain, have waited while the waiver application sits in “administrative processing."
They have contacted multiple politicians and officials at the U.S. State Department, which is vetting the waiver, who respond with brisk emails, explaining they cannot determine when they will be able to make a determination on the case.
“To me, it’s frustrating,” Swain said. “I’m a natural born citizen, a veteran. I’m somebody that has fought for our country, did everything I could for our country.”
As time passes, Aldawood worries that her mother’s health will fail before she gets the chance to travel to America.
“You can tell that her health is going,” Aldawood said. “Psychologically, it’s depressing.”
Her daughter, who is 11 now and was two when she left Syria, may never come to know her grandmother, Aldawood fears.
And with the delays, Assaf is beginning to lose hope in the process.
Evidence has come to light since the travel ban came into effect that suggests the State Department grants few waivers.
Although U.S. officials have told Aldawood and Swain that administrative processing typically takes three to six months, multiple news organizations have reported that many waivers take up to a year before they receive a response.
And many others are in the same situation as Aldawood.
They’re still waiting for their cases to be processed.
In the summer of 2018, the U.S. State Department reported that it had granted waivers to fewer than 2 percent of visa applications coming from countries affected by the travel ban.
At the time, the Associated Press reported that of the 33,176 people who had applied at that point, only 579 people received visas.
In a lawsuit currently making its way through federal court, a group of 36 plaintiffs allege the government has established a policy of de-facto denials or stonewalling of all waiver applicants.
A judge in San Francisco recently refused to dismiss the case, which is scheduled to be heard again Monday, according to Courthouse News.
Despite the seemingly long odds, Aldawood and Swain have little option but to wait for the State Department to make a determination on Assaf’s case.
As they wait, they worry not only for Assaf’s health, but also for her safety.
Assaf lives in a two-room house in Homs with extended relatives. The house is next to a lot that was blown up by a missile while Assaf was home.
“She’s survived too many times,” Aldawood said. “Safety is a matter of chance there.”
Aldawood said she personally knew 20 people who had died as a result of the war, and her sister, who remains in Syria, survived for weeks under ISIS rule.
The tumult makes it all the more important for Aldawood to bring her mother to America.
But the family has little option to try to speed up the process. And the financial burden is taking its toll.
Swain estimated the family had spent $4,000 in trying to secure the visa, and sent an additional $6,000 in support to Assaf.
Even if Aldawood and Swain were to hire an attorney, the lawyer would only be able to email the embassy, Swain said, like the family has been doing for the last six months.
“We’re not sure where we can go from here because we’re not sure if anybody can help us,” Swain said.
Swain said he voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, but the experience with the waivers has left him disappointed with his representatives.
According to Swain, Rep. Kevin McCarthy's office emailed the U.S. embassy in Jordan in support of the waiver at the outset of the process, but Swain said he would like more aid from the congressman.
McCarthy's office says they have been doing what they can to help.
"[Our office] has been assisting on this case for months, inquiring directly with the embassy and monitoring for periodic updates on the status of this case," said McCarthy's spokesman Matt Sparks in an email.
But, until the family receives an answer, they will remain in the bureaucratic void, which could continue indefinitely.
Swain said he and his wife couldn’t comprehend why Assaf had not already received a waiver, but they didn't know what he could do to help move the case forward.
“You start to lose hope,” he said as he pored over documents he had gathered to support the case for his mother-in-law. “If it’s so broke that this is happening, why isn’t somebody questioning it?”