Update: Alia Ghandi is seeking asylum in the United States, according to the ACLU of Oregon, which is advocating on her behalf.
Ghandi has been lodged by immigration officials in their detention facility in Tacoma, Wash., in part at the request of Ghandi, her family and her legal counsel.
Ghandi's sister, Leila Ahranjani, said Ghandi feared for her safety if she was flown back to Iran, as originally proposed by federal officials.
Ghandi believes she could be punished because she was jailed in the U.S., Ahranjani said.
PORTLAND, Ore. – Leila Ahranjani couldn't wait to welcome her sister, Alia Ghandi to Portland. Ghandi was coming to visit from Iran, with a valid visa.
As family members gathered and waited at Portland International Airport, the plane arrived. But Ghandi did not.
“After a while I got a call from a customs officer, he started asking very weird questions like, ‘Is she going to help you take care of the kids here?’” Ahranjani said.
Hours later the family was stunned to find out that 29-year-old Ghandi had been denied entry.
They reached out to state leaders and contacted the ACLU of Oregon. Eventually, they learned Ghandi was sent to Northern Oregon Regional Correctional (Norcor) Facility in The Dalles overnight.
And she was scheduled to board a flight to Amsterdam Wednesday afternoon.
“They cannot take a person who wants to visit, who comes out of the airplane after a 30-hour flight, is excited to see family members after four years,” said Leila. “Then take her to a facility without letting us know. Without talking to us. This is not the right way.
“She’s scared and worried. Very worried. I don’t know,” said Ahranjani, wiping away tears.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Jaime Ruiz said the facility in The Dalles acts as a holding facility, as some airports like PDX don't have 24/7 customs operators. People detained there are taken back to PDX the following morning, to get on the next flight out of the country.
He said a valid visa does not guarantee entry to the United States, but instead acts as a knock on the door.
“A traveler regardless of their country of nationality can be found inadmissible into the U.S. for various reasons," Ruiz told KGW in a statement, adding that there are "more than 60 grounds of inadmissibility divided into several major categories, including health-related, prior criminal convictions, security reasons, public charge, labor certification, illegal entrants and immigration violations, documentation requirements, and miscellaneous grounds.”
Ruiz said the incident has nothing to do with the Trump travel order, and due to a privacy act he is not allowed to tell KGW why Ghandi was denied entry into the United States.
As for the family, they continue to wait. And they say they are thankful for all the people who support them.