Afghan family of five detained in United States despite valid entry visas

Mar 08, 2017, 00:18
Afghan family of five detained in United States despite valid entry visas

Attorneys have filed a petition that seeks the release of an Afghan family of five detained by immigration officials when they arrived at Los Angeles International Airport. Instead, they were detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement "with absolutely no justification whatsoever", according to a federal court petition filed Saturday by the International Refugee Assistance Project seeking the family's release. The father - who was identified in court filings only as John Doe I, a man who served the USA military in Afghanistan for a decade - had been held in the Los Angeles County Jail since Saturday, said Becca Heller, the director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, which appeared on the petition as the family's "Next Friend".

The father, known in court documents as John Doe, worked for the USA government in Afghanistan and the entire family was extensively vetted, their attorneys said.

U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton issued a temporary restraining order late Saturday banning the government from removing the family from California.

The attorneys said the family should not be separated or detained and are hoping the federal court will order their release.

Government officials said in a federal court hearing on Monday that the family was given back their passports and visas and will be interviewed in Seattle on April 5 to determine if they are eligible to use those visas to remain in the United States.

Talia Inlender, a senior staff attorney at Public Counsel, says the government agreed to release the family Monday. "These are exactly the types of people that we should be protecting", attorney Daniele Katzir said.

Heller, whose organization routinely advocates on behalf of Special Immigrant Visa applicants and recipients, said she believes the family was detained by "rogue" immigration agents acting on prejudice.

The petition did not state the exact nature of the father's employment with the US government in Afghanistan.

Then, at a brief meeting with the mother, attorneys learned she and her children were going to be transported to a family detention center in Texas, Inlender told The Times.

Inlender further added that the father had been taken to one detention centre and the mother and children to another. The wife and children, aged 7 years, 6 years, and 8 months, were also not named.

The family's names have not been released. "The balance of equities tip in their favor and the injunction is in the public interest", read the order. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency had no comment, other than to say it will comply with the judge's order.

Heller said the father served the US government for more than a decade at Bagram air base in Kabul, and survived being shot at, as well as numerous other "threats to his life" as a result of that work.

Afghanistan is not among the countries in President Trump's travel ban list.

Asked why the family was detained, she cited the Trump administration.