Federal officials have agreed to free an Afghan family that had been granted special immigration visas but were detained when they arrived in Los Angeles, said Mark Rosenbaum, an attorney with Public Counsel who is part of the legal team representing the family.
The family will be paroled while the merits of their case are deliberated in federal court, Rosenbaum said.
“We’re pleased with the response,” he said. “Unfortunately they never should have been in custody in the first place.”
The family had been extensively vetted and approved for the visas because of the father’s work with the U.S. government, according to a federal court petition filed Saturday seeking release of the family.
“This individual served this country and assisted the military,” Rosenbaum said. “This is not the recruiting message we want to be sending.”
The move came shortly before a federal judge was expected to decide on whether to extend a temporary restraining order that blocked federal authorities from moving the Afghan family out of the Central District of California, which includes much of Southern California. Attorneys had also planned to ask the judge to release the family on parole.
U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton, who is hearing the case in Santa Ana, issued the temporary restraining order over the weekend. The hearing is still expected to take place, despite the announcement that the family would be released.
The father, mother and their three children — ages 7, 6 and 8 months — arrived at LAX on Thursday afternoon for a connecting flight to Seattle, where they planned to resettle, but were detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, according to Talia Inlender, a senior staff attorney with Public Counsel, a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services.
In a written statement released over the weekend, Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said ICE would “fully comply with the March 4 judicial order and all other legal requirements.”
Why the family was detained is unclear. Afghanistan was not among the countries that were included in President Trump’s first travel ban or his new ban issued on Monday.
In response to a question asking why the family was initially detained, Rusnok said that statement would be the only information provided at this time.
After being detained at LAX for two days, the father was taken to a detention center in Orange County and the mother and three children were taken to a similar facility in downtown Los Angeles.
On Saturday morning, a habeas corpus petition was filed in U.S. District Court on behalf of the family by Public Counsel and the firm Gibson Dunn.
Then, at a brief meeting with the mother, attorneys learned that she and her children were going to be transported to a family detention center in Texas, Inlender said.
Attorneys then filed an emergency motion for a restraining order in federal court to prevent the government from transferring the family out of state.
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.
Inlender said the father had been employed by the U.S. government in Afghanistan and he and his family had received special immigration visas, or SIVs.
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 his or her work with the U.S. government, according to the petition.