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Selden man, caught up in travel ban, stuck in Saudi Arabia

Abdulelah Othman, of Selden, in his car outside

Abdulelah Othman, of Selden, in his car outside the King Abdulaziz Airport in Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017. Othman says he's been stuck in Saudi Arabia since the Trump administration ordered the travel ban. Credit: Abdulelah Othman

A Selden man caught up in the Trump administration’s travel ban remained in limbo Tuesday, saying he’s hit wall after wall in his efforts to get back to the United States.

Abdulelah Othman, 42, a Saudi-born Yemeni citizen with a green card authorizing him to live and work in the U.S., returned to his native country on Jan. 11 to visit his ailing mother.

Othman’s plan was to fly to Kennedy Airport over the weekend but instead, he remains in Saudi Arabia. He said he tried to buy an airline ticket to the U.S. He was turned down.

“I’m not OK,” Othman said Tuesday in a telephone interview from King Abdulaziz International Airport north of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he was again trying to buy a ticket for a direct 16-hour flight to Kennedy Airport.

Yemen is among the seven countries listed on the executive order signed Friday by President Donald Trump.

Despite holding a green card, which White House officials said permits entry for citizens from countries on Trump’s order, Othman said he has no idea when he’ll return.

Tuesday night, his wife of five years, Barbara Gundrum, said he told her “a higher-up at the airport” said people allowed to travel to the U.S. since the order have been sent back. Othman told his wife now he fears returning even if he is permitted.

Officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were not available Tuesday night to comment on Othman’s claim.

Earlier Tuesday, Othman described a scene at the Saudi airport that was a repeat of his experience there Monday — hours spent wedged in with crowds of others trying to get back to America with the executive order in place.

There are “too many people” and “too many cars” at the Saudi airport, as well as a lot of police, said Othman, who is Muslim, speaks Arabic and only limited English.

Some people at the airport were in tears Monday, Othman said, out of worry about what might or might not happen next.

Gundrum, who met Othman while she worked as a nurse in Saudi Arabia, spent Tuesday doing what she has done since Trump signed the order — working the phones at home in Selden trying to help her husband get back to the U.S.

When and if he is able to return, Gundrum said she remains concerned.

“I’m worried that even if he does get back that he’ll be interrogated for 30 hours and he doesn’t speak English that well,” Gundrum said Tuesday from the couple’s home. “I hope they don’t misunderstand him.”

Othman said he heard through news reports that there’d be no problems for people holding green cards. White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said as much Sunday but added that anyone traveling from the countries in question, including U.S. citizens, would be subject to screening.

When Othman went to the airport on Monday, he said Saudia Airlines personnel told him that since he had a green card, “ ‘We’ll contact America and let you know if you can go back.’ ”

He was told there was no time frame for him to get an answer. So Othman went back to the airport Tuesday. Airline personnel were able to give him a time frame for when he could possibly get a plane ticket but not much else.

“ ‘What’s the problem? I have a green card,’ ” Othman said he told airline workers. “ ‘. . . my wife is in New York, my house is in New York.”

A spokesman for Saudia Airlines said Tuesday that the carrier is advising green card holders to contact U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Gundrum said Othman went back to the airport at 1 a.m. Wednesday. He’ll also keep praying.

“I’m sad,” said Othman, a legal secretary. “My mother said, ‘Just be careful and talk to God.’ ”

Gundrum, 56, said she talks to her husband several times a day on the phone and is trying to stay optimistic.

“We’re trying to get him back as soon as possible,” she said, “but we just don’t know what’s happening.”

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