Trapped California–Lebanese Family Awaits Passage Home

Trapped California–Lebanese Family Awaits Passage Home

Steven Seblani of Long Beach, California, with his wife, Samar Nabha, and their children.(Courtesy of the Seblani family)

John Fredricks
John Fredricks

6/8/2024

Updated: 6/18/2024

0

American Lebanese citizen Steven Seblani, 36, of Long Beach, California, remembers turning up the music in his unfinished home in Lebanon near the Israeli border to hide the sound of bombing missions from Israeli military forces from his three children.
“Living near the Lebanon–Israeli border, we were constantly hearing the bombs going off after the Oct. 7 attacks,” Mr. Seblani told The Epoch Times. “The music was an attempt to keep my children in a ‘normal’ state at home, and decrease the fear they were having from the explosions.”
Mr. Seblani said he and his family are on “constant alert” and “uneasy” over the war and the in-country tension in Lebanon.
As an American citizen who was naturalized in 2014, Mr. Seblani said Lebanon is the opposite of his former Southern California home, comparing the two locations to “heaven and hell.”
“My Long Beach neighborhood was such a great place to be ... everyone seemed to be in enjoyment as they walked along the many shops and restaurants or relaxing in the beach areas of the city,” he said.
He said he has waited for his wife’s U.S. visa application to be approved for almost seven years. In the meantime, he said, he just waits and wonders.
“We are just trying to survive day to day here, and why?” he said.
“I am a U.S. citizen. My children are U.S. citizens, and we feel like we’ve been abandoned by our embassy here in Beirut, all while we try to figure out our next meals.”
A black stamp was placed on the visa of Samar Nabha by U.S. Embassy officials in Lebanon. (Courtesy of the Seblani family)

A black stamp was placed on the visa of Samar Nabha by U.S. Embassy officials in Lebanon. (Courtesy of the Seblani family)

Mr. Seblani, a professional golfer and caddie, returned to his native Lebanon in 2017 to marry Samar Nabha, 30, and to attend the funeral of his father, Talaat Seblani, who made Arabic news headlines in the early 1980s when he assisted in the rescue of an American engineer who had been kidnapped by Islamic militant groups.
His wife initially was granted approval to return to the United States, but after the family purchased airline tickets and arrived at the airport, it was revoked and they were refused travel.
He said they were told to return to the U.S. Embassy in Beirut for answers.
“We missed out on our flight and were not refunded the $3,000 plane tickets,” he said.
Embassy authorities ultimately denied the visa.
“We were never given an explanation as to why this happened, other than to wait,” Mr. Seblani said.
He said that in the years since, they’ve still not received an explanation.
Mr. Seblani said friends often tell him that he should just enter the United States illegally via the southern border.
But he said that is not an option.
“I’m trying to do things the legal way for my wife because I love America and follow the laws of my country,” he said.
In April, border authorities apprehended nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants along the southwest border, according to Customs and Border Protection.
“It is not right to enter the United States without permission to do so,” Mr. Seblani said. “As hard as this process has been for [us], America is set apart from all other nations because it protects its border and its citizens.”
He said he has not given up and will continue to work with embassy officials so the family can return to Long Beach, where he looks forward to reconnecting with work and old friends again.
One former Long Beach neighbor even sent the family money for food when supplies became limited in southern Lebanon because of an influx of refugees after the Israel–Hamas war began last fall.
“Steven is such a hard worker and was a wonderful neighbor of mine,” Teresa Davis, who was a neighbor of the family’s in Long Beach, told The Epoch Times. “He was working here and sending money home to Lebanon to take care of his family and would always ask me about my own mother, whose health was in decline. He even said he would be praying for her.”
For now, the family has relocated, temporarily, to live with Ms. Seblani’s family in eastern Lebanon as they continue to wait for legal passage to return home to the United States.
U.S. State Department officials told The Epoch Times they could not comment on Ms. Seblani’s case because visa records are confidential.
“[We] have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas,” a State Department spokesman told The Epoch Times. “We take seriously our commitment to assist U.S. citizens abroad and stand ready to provide all appropriate assistance, [but] due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment. “
As war rages on in both neighboring Syria and Israel, Mr. Seblani said he and his family have never been so anxious to see California again, where his children can play without the expectation of warfare striking them at any moment.
“We regularly hear combat drones flying over us, [and] how do they know from up there that we are not enemy combatants driving a normal car?” Mr. Seblani said. “If we die, I would like our embassy and State Department to know that I was a U.S. citizen trying to get my wife and children home to California.”
The U.S. Embassy in Beirut didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment by The Epoch Times.
A newspaper article depicting Talaat Seblani, father of Steven Seblani, after he rescued an American engineer in the early 1980s. (Courtesy of the Seblani family)

A newspaper article depicting Talaat Seblani, father of Steven Seblani, after he rescued an American engineer in the early 1980s. (Courtesy of the Seblani family)

Copy
facebooktwitterlinkedintelegram

John Fredricks is a California-based journalist for The Epoch Times. His reportage and photojournalism features have been published in a variety of award-winning publications around the world.

Author's Selected Articles
California Insider
Sign up here for our email newsletter!
©2024 California Insider All Rights Reserved. California Insider is a part of Epoch Media Group.