Tuesday 23 January 2018

Afghan family detained in Los Angeles freed

Attorney Robert Blume speaks to reporters outside federal court in Santa Ana, California (Nick Ut/AP)
Attorney Robert Blume speaks to reporters outside federal court in Santa Ana, California (Nick Ut/AP)

An Afghan family of five who travelled to the United States on special visas and were detained by immigration officials in Los Angeles have been released, according to the US government and the family's lawyers.

The mother, father and their three young sons, including a baby, arrived at the airport on Thursday for a connecting flight to Washington state, where they planned to resettle.

Instead, US immigration officials detained them and split them up. They planned to send the mother and children to a detention centre in Texas, but lawyers intervened over the weekend and had a federal judge quash the transfer.

Homeland Security officials have not said why the family was held, while immigrant advocates asserted in a court petition that there was "absolutely no justification whatsoever".

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

Lawyers said the family should never have been subjected to this treatment after going through the more than year-long process to obtain special immigrant visas, which are given to foreigners who work for the US military in their countries, often risking their lives.

The father of the family worked different jobs for the US military in Afghanistan for more than a decade and was assaulted and shot during his time there, said attorney Rob Blume.

"It is a victory in a battle that shouldn't have been fought," Mr Blume told reporters after the hearing. "The government swung and missed on this issue, and they just got it wrong."

US District Judge Josephine Staton said she will retain jurisdiction of the case and that the government cannot detain or remove the family from the US without providing 72 hours' notice to their attorneys.

"I'm just trying to prevent further injury," she said.

Josh Busch, a spokesman for the Public Counsel, said the family was meeting with their attorneys and "taking it all in". He was not sure whether they would stay in the Los Angeles area overnight or head to Washington immediately.

He said their identities would remain protected for now, citing potential danger to them because of the father's work for the US government in Afghanistan.

Press Association

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