Our Stories

Afghan Family Detained In L.A. Last Month, Receives Status As Lawful Permanent Residents In U.S.


April 13, 2017

After a Final Grueling 3.5 Hour Interview with the Customs and Border Protection, the Family is Admitted to the U.S. Under Their Original Visas

Seattle, WA – After more than a month of uncertainty, a family of five from Afghanistan, who was detained at Los Angeles airport on March 2nd despite being in possession of Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), can finally begin their life in the U.S. after Customs and Border Protection (CBP) admitted them into the country under their original visas. The family had been out of detention on parole since March 6th, but their immigration status was still uncertain pending a final Deferred Inspection interview with CBP. After a three and a half hour interrogation – without access to their lawyers – the family had their original visas honored, granting them status as lawful permanent U.S. residents.

“We’re thrilled that the family has been admitted into the United States” said Talia Inlender, senior staff attorney with Public Counsel, who was in Seattle to support the family. “But this decision only confirms that the detention of this family, and the actions of Customs and Border Protection, were completely unjustified. It is unconscionable that upon their arrival to the U.S. this family was subjected to multiple days of detention, separated from each other, and it took a team of lawyers going to federal court to get them released.”

The family was put through an extraordinary ordeal upon arriving at Los Angeles airport, when they were detained and held incommunicado for more than 40 hours without access to counsel. Eventually they were split up, with the father placed in a detention facility in Orange County, California. The mother and three children were booked on a flight to Texas for placement in a family detention facility. It took an emergency motion filed in federal court by a team of pro bono attorneys to prevent the transport of the wife and children out of state. The family was finally released on parole by the government four days after touching down in the U.S. They were allowed to travel to Washington – their original destination – but were required to participate in the Deferred Inspection interview to determine if they could stay in the country. Their fate hung in the balance based upon CBP’s decision.

“While today we celebrate for this family, this case easily could have turned out differently,” said Robert Blume, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, who partnered with Public Counsel to represent the family in federal court. “We were fortunate to hear about this family’s detention, and three of our attorneys rushed to the airport on a Saturday to stop the mother and three children from being put on a plane to Texas – but what if word hadn’t gotten to us? This was a man who put his safety at risk in Afghanistan by helping the U.S. government, and instead of a welcome mat, this family was greeted with detention and nearly torn apart.”

The family was awarded the SIV visas because of the father’s work on behalf of the U.S. government in Afghanistan, where he served on an Air Force Base alongside U.S. military personnel and contractors. Before receiving the visas, the United States consul thoroughly vetted and examined all five family members, including the father and mother and their three young children, ages 7, 6, and 8 months.

"America has to be a place of refuge if it is truly to be America,” said Mark Rosenbaum, Director of Public Counsel’s Opportunity Under Law. “It's unfortunate that it took a federal judge to remind our government that this family is part of our family."

At the moment the family wishes to have their identities remain private. They plan to resume the process of settling into their new community – now without the threat of deportation looming.

“We are gravely concerned about the actions of the government in this case,” added Talia Inlender. “There is little oversight of CBP, who appear emboldened to act with disregard for people’s rights. It sets up the potential for serious injustice – if a family who served this country for years can be subjected to this treatment, any immigrant is at risk.”

MEDIA COVERAGE: