Banah Al-Hanfy traveled to Washington to attend President Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress and ended up giving a speech of her own as well.

The 20-year-old woman is in the nation’s capital as a guest of Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District. Pingree’s office helped bring Al-Hanfy to the United States from Iraq when the president’s travel ban cut her off from her family in Maine.

On Tuesday afternoon, just hours before Trump’s address, Al-Hanfy took the microphone at a news conference with other guests who have been or could be directly affected by Trump’s immigration policies. She hugged Pingree as she stepped up to the podium. Her comments were brief, but her voice was steady as she spoke to the reporters and staffers gathered at the news conference.

“We left everything and carried nothing but our hopes and dreams to be here,” Al-Hanfy said. “We love to be here.”

She told snippets of her story.

At the time her family fled Baghdad, Al-Hanfy was studying accounting on a scholarship to the American University in Iraq. Her family obtained a special immigrant visa because her father worked in Iraq as an Arabic-English interpreter for the U.S. military and as a public policy adviser for the U.S. government. Labed Al-Hanfy, his wife, SoSo, and two teenage daughters, Jumana and Omaima, arrived in the United States from Baghdad on Jan. 24. They came to Portland to stay with relatives, and their oldest daughter was supposed to follow within days. But Banah Al-Hanfy was stranded when Trump issued his order Jan. 27 barring immigrants traveling to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen.

“It was dangerous to be there alone,” she said.

A judge temporarily halted the order, and Pingree’s staff and a group of volunteers found an airline that would allow Al-Hanfy to board a flight destined for the United States. She reunited with her parents and sisters Feb. 3.

“It’s so amazing that people were working so hard to bring me here safe,” Al-Hanfy said. “People are great. Since I’ve been here, I fell in love with them.”

Several other members of Congress also invited immigrants to Trump’s speech as guests. Pingree said she hopes the president and the American people learn from their presence in the House Gallery. A video from the news conference was posted on Pingree’s Facebook page.

“Sometimes in the rhetoric of today, there is so much confusion,” Pingree said. “Who are the people they are talking about? What are their stories? When you know someone or you look them in the eye or they are part of your community, it changes everything.”

After Al-Hanfy arrived in Washington on Monday afternoon, she called her parents to ask for advice on her speech.

“Banah is very strong and very smart and will make things illuminated for many people,” said Labed Al-Hanfy, 48. “I just want Banah to be herself. I just want her to say what she is convinced about.”

The White House has not responded to requests for comment. Trump is expected to issue a new immigration order soon.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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