Idrees and Naila Chappra got to Houston as fast as they could. After years of denials, they were finally granted visitor’s visas to the U.S. Their daughter Qirat had just days to live.
Qirat’s aunt, Neelam Ghanchi, rushed the family to see her at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital.
“When first time her parents came in the hospital, and they called, ‘Qirat, Qirat, we’re here, we’re here,’” Ghanchi says. “We saw the tears on her eyes because she’s listening, but she’s unconscious.”
Ghanchi says Qirat was on life support and was unable to speak to her parents in her final moments. She passed away on December 5.
Doctors say the 18-year-old suffered from severe immunodeficiency which led to a host of other complications. As her condition deteriorated, friends and family launched a petition on the Whitehouse website to get the parents an emergency visa. They gained thousands of signatures, and the support of Qirat’s Congressman John Culberson.
“We appreciate everybody,” Ghanchi says. “They support with their words, their feelings. We’re happy for that.”
Years ago, Qirat’s mother came to the U.S. on a visitor’s visa while she was pregnant. She began having complications with the baby, and doctors advised her not to travel until after Qirat was born.
Afterwards, the family returned to Pakistan, but they sent Qirat back to the U.S. for treatment, and she stayed due to the severity of her condition. For years, Qirat’s parents tried unsuccessfully to visit her.
The State Department wouldn’t comment on the specifics of their case, but experts say in light of recent national security concerns, it’s become harder to get visas from many Muslim countries.
Geoffrey Hoffman is director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Houston Law Center. He says the Chappras’ story shows all cases can’t be treated the same.
“It just in my mind underscores the importance of having a system where people who are undergoing urgent humanitarian situations like this one are able to enter the country lawfully,” Hoffman says.
Ghanchi says the family is still grieving, but they have found some peace. In keeping with Islamic tradition, Qirat was laid to rest the day after her death in a private ceremony.