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Pakistani family reunited after travel ban worry
Flowery Branch resident returns early from visit to homeland over concerns
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From left, Shalina Ali, Arshaq Ali, Shahid Ali and Serin Ali sit on a subway bench together on their trip to New York City in December 2015. Serin Ali, a Flowery Branch resident, was on a trip to Pakistan when her family heard about the immigration ban and cut her trip short.

Imagine waking up one day and thinking you won’t be able to see your loved one again.

That’s how Ashmal Ali felt when he heard about the immigration and refugee ban issued Jan. 27 by the White House, now held up by a federal appeals court.

His grandmother, who has a green card and lives in Flowery Branch, was visiting her father in Pakistan when the news broke and sent Ali’s family into a panic.

“We started seeing articles everywhere about how Pakistan might be added to the list of banned countries,” said Ashmal Ali, a 20-year-old pre-law student at the University of Georgia.

Pakistan was not on the list of seven Muslim-majority nations where individuals were banned from entering the country, but that didn’t ease their minds.

His family was still scared they wouldn’t be able to get Serin Ali back into the country.

“When we heard that even green card holders were being sent home, we knew we had to change her flight,” Ashmal said.

So Serin, 61, cut her trip short. She came home Feb. 4, 20 days before she had planned, and into the welcoming arms of her family happy to see her again.

Ashmal made sure to make the commute back home to Flowery Branch to see her.

He was also able to see his mom Shalina Ali and Shahid Ali, both 45. They own gas stations around Northeast Georgia and have an event planning business. Ashmal’s aunt also came from Alabama to see Serin.

His relationship to his grandmother, though, is one that always spans the distance between school and home.

Ashmal and his grandmother talk on the phone every week, sometimes multiple times a week, just to check in with each other.

“She’s fun,” Ashmal said. “She loves cooking, loves her kids and grandkids more than anything.”

Ashmal said she is a devout Muslim, praying five times daily and fasting during Ramadan. Serin also likes going shopping and watching Bollywood movies, he said.

Ashmal’s little brother, 14-year-old Arshaq Ali, said his grandmother is known for being kind and sweet to everyone she comes in contact with.

“She is always trying to help people and always has the best for others on her mind,” said Arshaq, an eighth-grader at Lakeview Academy.

Even Ashmal’s friends know how important his family, especially his grandmother, are to him.

Ashmal’s close friend Molly Anderson, another University of Georgia student, has met Serin a few times. Serin is always in attendance at Ashmal’s dance shows.

“She always goes with his parents to watch him and they’re all so supportive of Ashmal in all he does. It’s honestly amazing,” Anderson said.

More recently, Anderson recalled seeing Serin at a surprise birthday dinner that Shalina hosted at a Thai restaurant for Ashmal.

“His family is super, super close,” Anderson said. “They are all such kind and loving people, some of the best people I have ever met.”

Before Ashmal, Anderson had never had a Muslim friend or really interacted with anyone who practiced his religion.

“I knew nothing ... except for the horror stories I heard in the media. So I can honestly say meeting Ashmal changed my life for the better and opened my mind to so many things,” she said.

Ashmal met Anderson at UGA, where he also interns at the Wilbanks Child Endangerment and Sexual Exploitation clinic and plans to become a litigator someday.

“I think the most appealing thing for me about being a litigator is the ability to give people a voice,” Ashmal said.

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