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Niece of a Pittsburg cardiologist returns home - KOAM TV 7

UPDATE: Niece of a Pittsburg cardiologist returns home

Updated September 19, 2012:  A few weeks ago we interviewed Dr. Bashar Marji, a Southeast Kansas cardiologist who is a Syrian born naturalized U.S. citizen.

His 18 year old niece from Syria, Natali Atali, intended to visit her uncle and other relatives living here in the U.S. this past July.

But because of confusion over her visa she was detained in Detroit, Michigan.

Now, two and a half months after she was first jailed, the case has finally worked its way through the legal system and Natali has been allowed to return to her homeland.

Dr. Marji tells us his niece arrived in Syria today and he says she is overjoyed to be back with her family.

Dr. Marji also says he's grateful for the outpouring of support he's received from the community.

Reported September 7, 2012:  A Pittsburg, Kansas doctor says a misunderstanding over an improper visa has landed his teenage niece behind bars in Michigan.

The 18 year old niece has found herself caught between two nations, the United States where a number of her relatives live, and Syria, where she was born.

Now her uncle in Southeast Kansas says he's struggling with bureaucratic red tape in an effort to get her out of jail and back to her homeland.

"We are not really lawyers, we don't know the legal terms of anything, all that I wanted is for the young girl to get out of prison," says Dr. Bashaar Marji, a respected cardiologist in Southeast Kansas who says he's proud to be a naturalized U.S. citizen.

But his sister and her family remain in Syria.

At Dr. Marji's invitation his niece, Natali Altali, agreed to visit him in the U.S.  She planned to tour Pittsburg State University and other schools she might want to attend.

But Natali never got that far.

Although Natali had a three-month visitor's visa, she did not have a student visa which would be required if she were to attend school.

She was stopped by immigration officials in Detroit and locked up in a county jail.

That was in July.

Two months later she's still there.

"The government recognizes and the court recognizes she is not a security risk nor is she a threat to the health safety and welfare of the American public," says Bob Birach, an attorney who handles immigration cases and has been hired by Natali's family.  "It's simply a matter where she was denied bond because someone along the chain of command determined she may be a flight risk".

Natali has been denied official entry into the U.S.  Her attorney says she now simply wants to return home, but immigration officials won't permit her family to buy a return ticket and the government process for providing a ticket has been bogged down in red tape.  Plus, more airlines are expected to stop flights to the war torn nation.

Dr. Marji says he's worried about his sister in Syria, as well as his niece if she returns there.  But he says he's also worried about his niece being in a county prison in Detroit, Michigan.

"An 18 year old innocent girl who is being housed in a St. Clair County jail with people who are in there for drug convictions and assaults and everything else, she's never been exposed to these kinds of people, let alone the drug use and everything else," says Birach.

As a cardiologist, Dr. Marji has helped to heal hundreds of hearts.  But he's frustrated and saddened by this heartbreaking situation that he can't fix.

"If she gets in here, that's good - if she goes back to her country, it's okay," says Dr. Marji.  "We would live with any other solution.  War zone is okay, but not prison.  She didn't do anything to be in prison."

Dr. Marji and the attorney have been in contact with lawmakers in Washington D.C., including Kansas Senator Jerry Moran and Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins hoping to reach some resolution.

But so far their efforts have been unsuccessful.

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