Iranian child seeking emergency eye surgery arrives in New York

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A young Iranian girl in need of emergency eye surgery only available in the United States arrived safely at a New York airport on Monday evening, after a court halted new travel restrictions put in place suddenly last month that threatened to delay the vital treatment.

Her mother, Fahimeh Kashkooli, is living in the United States on a student visa while she earns a master's degree at New York's Fordham University School of Law. She shed tears and smiled as she took her daughter out of the airport through a crowd of well-wishers and reporters.

"I cannot express my feelings in words," Kashkooli said softly as she waited at a John F. Kennedy International Airport arrival gate on Monday evening.

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Iranian child seeking emergency eye surgery arrives in New York
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Iranian child seeking emergency eye surgery arrives in New York

Alma Kashkooli, (12), from Iran who has a severe medical condition, is wheeled out of customs by her mother Farimeh Kashkooli who is living in the United States on a student Visa while studying at Fordham University Law School in New York, as Alma arrives at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York after traveling from Istanbul Turkey February 6, 2017. Alma is in the United States to have eye saving surgery according to lawyers for the family.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Alma Kashkooli, (12), from Iran who has a severe medical condition sits in a stroller as she is comforted by her mother Farimeh Kashkooli who is living in the United States on a student Visa while studying at Fordham University Law School in New York, inside Terminal 1 upon arrival at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York after traveling from Istanbul Turkey February 6, 2017. Alma is in the United States to have eye saving surgery according to lawyers for the family.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Alma Kashkooli, (12), from Iran who has a severe medical condition, sits in a stroller as her mother Farimeh Kashkooli (front L) embraces a children's aid who escorted Alma to the U.S. from Istanbul Turkey upon their arrival at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, February 6, 2017. Farimeh Kashkooli who is living in the United States on a student Visa while studying at Fordham University Law School in New York, was welcoming her daughter to the U.S. to have eye saving surgery according to lawyers for the family.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

12-year-old Alma Kashkooli from Iran who has a severe medical condition, is wheeled out of customs by her mother Farimeh Kashkooli who is living in the United States on a student Visa while studying at Fordham University Law School in New York, as Alma arrives at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York after traveling from Istanbul, Turkey February 6, 2017. Alma is in the United States to have eye saving surgery according to lawyers for the family.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

12-year-old Alma Kashkooli from Iran who has a severe medical condition, is wheeled out of customs by her mother Farimeh Kashkooli who is living in the United States on a student Visa while studying at Fordham University Law School in New York, as Alma arrives at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York after traveling from Istanbul, Turkey February 6, 2017. Alma is in the United States to have eye saving surgery according to lawyers for the family.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

12-year-old Alma Kashkooli from Iran who has a severe medical condition, is wheeled out of Terminal 1 by her mother Farimeh Kashkooli who is living in the United States on a student Visa while studying at Fordham University Law School in New York, as Alma arrives at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York after traveling from Istanbul Turkey February 6, 2017. Alma is in the United States to have eye saving surgery according to lawyers for the family.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

Alma Kashkooli, (12), from Iran who has a severe medical condition sits in a stroller as she is comforted by her mother Farimeh Kashkooli who is living in the United States on a student Visa while studying at Fordham University Law School in New York, outside Terminal 1 as Alma arrived at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York after traveling from Istanbul Turkey February 6, 2017. Alma is in the United States to have eye saving surgery according to lawyers for the family.

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

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"I was in pain every single moment, but now I feel so much better."

For several years, Alma Kashkooli, 12, has been traveling to the United States to see her mother and get advanced medical treatment, including a previous surgery in San Diego, for an extremely rare condition that took several years to even be diagnosed.

She had been scheduled to arrive in the United States on Jan. 31 - two days after the restrictions took effect - for a planned surgery at a Pittsburgh children's hospital.

Doctors there have urged Kashkooli, 33, to get her daughter in for treatment as soon as possible.

When the travel restrictions were issued two days before her daughter's flight, Kashkooli was rendered nearly speechless.

When U.S. President Donald Trump signed a controversial executive order last month restricting travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, Kashkooli found herself in an impossible position.

She could not go and bring her daughter back from Iran because she might not get back in herself, and she could not get her child to the United States for urgent surgery.

"This little girl has a valid visa, and got caught up in a conflict with which she has no connection," said attorney Gordon Caplan, whose New York law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher is representing the family pro bono.

Alma's current visa allows her to remain in the United States as long as her mother's student visa remains valid. The child's visa became useless when the restrictions went into effect, but has since been revalidated under a court order temporarily halting enforcement of the restrictions.

On Monday, her odyssey through U.S. customs was fraught with tension.

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Reunions, greetings and goodbyes amid immigration ban
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Reunions, greetings and goodbyes amid immigration ban

International travelers are greeted as they arrive at John F. Kennedy international airport in New York City, U.S., February 4, 2017.

(REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology student Kiki Rahmati, from Iran, cries as lead attorney Susan Church greets her at Logan International Airport in Boston on Feb. 3, 2017. She was initially not allowed to enter the US after President Donald Trump's travel ban.

(Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

A relative of Fuad Sharef, an Iraqi with an immigration visa who was prevented with his family from boarding a flight to New York a week ago, hugs his daughter goodbye in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq February 4, 2017, before going to the airport to fly, on Turkish Airlines, to Nashville, Tennessee, their new home.

(REUTERS/Ahmed Saad)

Behnam Partopour, a Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) student from Iran, is greeted by friends at Logan Airport after he cleared U.S. customs and immigration on an F1 student visa in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. February 3, 2017. Partopour was originally turned away from a flight to the U.S. following U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban.

(REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

Fuad Sharef, an Iraqi with an immigration visa who was prevented with his family from boarding a flight to New York a week ago, kisses his relatives goodbye at his home in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq February 4, 2017, before going to the airport to fly, on Turkish Airlines, to Nashville, Tennessee, his new home.

(REUTERS/Ahmed Saad)

Fuad Sharef, an Iraqi with an immigration visa who was prevented with his family from boarding a flight to New York a week ago, hug his relatives goodbye at Erbil International Airport, Iraq February 4, 2017, to fly, on Turkish Airlines, to Nashville, Tennessee, their new home.

(REUTERS/Ahmed Saad)

Behnam Partopour, a Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) student from Iran, is greeted by his sister Bahar (L) at Logan Airport after he cleared U.S. customs and immigration on an F1 student visa in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. February 3, 2017. Partopour was originally turned away from a flight to the U.S. following U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban.

(REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

Samira Asgari is greeted by a friend after she cleared U.S. customs and immigration in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. February 3, 2017. Asgari is an Iranian scientist who had obtained a visa to conduct research at Brigham and Women's Hospital and was twice prevented from entering the United States under President Trump's executive order travel ban.

(REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

Banah Alhanfy, from Ira, is hugged and handed a rose after arriving at Logan International Airport in Boston on Feb. 3, 2017. Banah was initially not allowed to enter the US after President Donald Trump's travel ban.

(Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology student Kiki Rahmati, from Iran, hugs someone that met her at Logan International Airport in Boston on Feb. 3, 2017. She was initially not allowed to enter the US after President Donald Trump's travel ban.

(Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Dr. Muhamad Alhaj Moustafa, a Syrian citizen, embraces his wife Nabil Alhaffar, also a Syrian citizen, after she returned from a trip to Doha but was denied re-entry in January, at the international arrivals hall at Washington Dulles International Airport February 6, 2017 in Dulles, Virginia. A US appeals court has rejected a government request to immediately reinstate US President Donald Trump's controversial immigration ban -- the latest twist in what could be a long, high-stakes legal battle.

(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Salwa Tabiedi greets her son Hussamedin Agabani, a Sudanese citizen who was arriving in the United States for the first time, at the international arrivals hall at Washington Dulles International Airport February 6, 2017 in Dulles, Virginia.

(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Nazanin Zinouri, an Iranian engineer, is received by supporters at the Greenville Spartanburg Airport February 6, 2017 in Greenville, South Carolina. Zinouri, a Clemson graduate, works for a technology firm in Greenville, South Carolina and has lived in the United States for the last seven years. While attempting to return to South Carolina after a recent trip visiting family in Iran, she had been taken off her flight in Dubai as a result of the recent travel and immigration ban ordered by President Donald Trump.

(Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Shanez Tabarsi (L) is greeted by her daughter Negin after traveling to the U.S. from Iran following a federal court's temporary stay of U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order travel ban at Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. February 6, 2017.

(REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

Ali Alghazali, 13, a Yemeni who was previously prevented from boarding a plane to the U.S. following U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order on travel ban, hugs his uncle Saleh Alghazali, upon Ali's arrival at Terminal 4 at JFK airport in Queens, New York City, New York, U.S. February 5, 2017.

(REUTERS/Joe Penney)

Najmia Abdishakur (R), a Somali national who was delayed entry to the U.S. because of the recent travel ban, is greeted by her mother Zahra Warsma (L) at Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia, U.S. February 6, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Mustafa Aidid (center R), a Somali national who was delayed entry into the U.S. because of the recent travel ban, is reunited with his brother Taha Aidid (center L) at Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia, U.S. February 6, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Ammar Aquel Mohammed Aziz (R), hugs his father Aquel (2nd R), as his brother Tareq (L) hugs his uncle Jamil Assa (2nd L) after the brothers arrived from Yemen at Dulles International airport on February 6, 2017 in Washington, DC. The brothers were prohibited from entering the U.S. a week ago due to tightened immigration policies established by the Trump administration, but were able to travel freely this week following a court injunction halting the implementation of the immigration policy.

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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With the possibility looming that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit could issue a new nationwide ruling on the travel restrictions at any moment, family attorneys on hand at the airport were visibly nervous as they waded through a throng of cheerful law students and legal interns.

Caplan remained nervous until he saw Alma.

"This is not over yet," he said, looking for her over the shoulder of a reporter towards arriving passengers.

When he spotted the child, he exhaled deeply.

Kashkooli had spent years taking Alma to experts on three continents before a California doctor finally diagnosed the child in 2009 with an eye condition known as congenital disorder of glycosylation, which severely complicates vision, development and coordination.

(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Lisa Shumaker)

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