U.S. immigration officials have detained an Afghan family of five who arrived in Los Angeles for a connecting flight to Seattle, where they planned to resettle.
A petition by the International Refugee Assistance Project on behalf of the father, mother and three children – ages 7, 6 and 8 months – is asking a federal court to release the family.
The petition argues that the father worked for the U.S. government in Afghanistan and was able to obtain special immigrant visas along with his family after years of intense vetting. In addition to being detained, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has prevented attorneys from communicating with the family, according to the petition.
“The betrayal of this family by the U.S. government shocks the conscience,” the petition said.
The names of the detainees have not been released because attorneys have not received approval to make them public and because it could put the family in harm’s way.
The family arrived in the United States on Thursday and was almost immediately taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at the Los Angeles International Airport, the filing said.
The mother was being detained in downtown Los Angeles with her children, while the father was in a maximum-security detention facility in Orange County, California.
The family’s lawyers said the government intended to transfer the mother and children to Texas, but they persuaded a U.S. district court judge on Saturday night to intervene and stop the move. The order also says the government cannot bar the family members from access to their attorneys.
The process for obtaining those visas involves intensive vetting, including interviews, security checks, medical examinations and fingerprints — as well as a finding that the applicant has experienced a serious threat because of their work with the U.S. government, according to the petition.
“It’s just a complete travesty,” said Becca Heller, the director of the International Refugee Assistance Project. “It would be if it were happening to anybody, but especially someone who spent years and years risking his life for the U.S.”
The case follows President Donald Trump’s executive order barring people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. Afghanistan was not one of those countries.