An Afghan family of five that had received approval to move to the United States based on the father’s work for the U.S. government was detained after flying into Los Angeles, a legal advocacy group said in court documents filed Saturday.
An Afghan family of five that had received approval to move to the United States based on the father’s work for the U.S. government has been detained for more than two days after flying into Los Angeles International Airport, a legal advocacy group said in court documents filed Saturday.
A federal judge in Los Angeles on Saturday evening issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the mother and children from being transferred out of the state. The order, by Judge Josephine L. Staton of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, arrived as they were about to be put on a plane to Texas, most likely bound for a family detention center there, lawyers said.
The scene at the airport was “chaotic, panicked, it was a mess,” said Lali Madduri, a lawyer with the firm Gibson Dunn, which is representing the family pro bono. “The whole time the children are crying, the woman is crying. They can’t understand what’s going on.”
The father had arrived Thursday with his wife and three children, ages 7, 6 and 8 months, on Special Immigrant Visas, according to the lawyers’ habeas corpus petition filed in court Saturday. Those visas were created by Congress for citizens in Iraq and Afghanistan who have helped the U.S. military or government by working, for example, as drivers or interpreters. Such work often makes Iraqis and Afghans targets in their home countries.
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But instead of being allowed to enter the United States, the family has been detained, according to the court papers.
“I’ve never, ever heard of this happening,” said Becca Heller, the director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, or IRAP, which filed the petition. “They go through so many layers of security clearance, including one right before they get on the plane.”
Calling the detention “egregious, inhumane, and unconstitutional,” the group petitioned the court to release the family, whose names were not publicly revealed. The judge did not order the family be released but set a hearing for Monday.
According to Heller, the father was being held Saturday night at a men’s immigration detention facility in Orange County, California. His wife and children were taken to a detention center in downtown Los Angeles.
Asked for comment, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said only that the agency would “fully comply with the March 4 judicial order and all other legal requirements.”
The case was the latest instance of what advocates say has been increased scrutiny at U.S. airports since President Donald Trump took office, especially after his January executive order temporarily banned travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries. A federal court halted that order, but the administration has said it will issue a revised version. Afghanistan was not one of the seven countries in the original ban.
Even so, customs agents at airports have been using their power to detain passengers, demand passwords for smartphones to search their contents and even cancel visas. Mem Fox, a best-selling children’s book author from Australia, described being held for questioning — also at Los Angeles International Airport — for several hours with no access to water or a bathroom, and prohibited from using her cellphone.
Henry Rousso, a prominent French historian of the Holocaust, said he was detained at an airport in Houston for more than 10 hours and was threatened with deportation when he arrived to give the keynote address at a conference at Texas A&M University.
It was unclear exactly how the Afghan man who was detained had helped the United States, but IRAP wrote in the court petition that “his service put not only his own life, but also the lives of his wife and three small children, at risk.”
Kerry Arndt, a spokeswoman for Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the state in which the family was going to settle, said the senator’s office was trying to get information from the Department of Homeland Security but was “very frustrated from the lack of communication and information that we’re getting.”