Afghan family detained at LAX is granted permanent residency

An Afghan family of five who was detained by immigration officials for two days at Los Angeles International Airport last month has been granted permanent residency status in the U.S., attorneys representing the family say.

After interviewing the family for more than three hours Thursday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Washington state determined that they were eligible to remain in the U.S. under the special immigrant visas that the family had originally used to enter.

Lawyers said that the family prefers to keep their identities private.

“We’re thrilled that the family has been admitted into the U.S., but we don’t see any justification for why this happened,” said Talia Inlender, a senior staff attorney with Public Counsel. “We’ve never received an explanation.”

Despite judicial blocks of both President Trump’s January executive order that temporarily banned refugees and citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries and a narrower replacement order in March, advocates insist extreme vetting at airports is continuing.

“We’ve been calling it ‘Muslim Ban 3.0​,’ ” said Becca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Project. “The administration has realized that they don’t need a federal policy … they can revoke visas overseas and delay the process of visas.”

Afghanistan was not one of the seven countries in the original executive order, and Iraq was removed in Trump’s revised travel ban.

Special immigrant visas were created for citizens from Iraq and Afghanistan whose lives were at risk because they had worked for the U.S. military or government. Obtaining the visa involves intense vetting and interviews before being approved, according to lawyers.

Although it is still unclear in what capacity the father helped the U.S. in Afghanistan, Heller said the father worked for the U.S. for more than 10 years.

“This is someone who sacrificed their life for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, and instead of thanking him for his service we detain him and his little baby,” Heller said.

The family’s ordeal began on March 2nd when the father, mother and three children — ages 7, 6 and 8 months — arrived at LAX for a connecting flight to Seattle, where they had planned to resettle.

Upon arrival, however, the family was was detained for 40 hours at the airport without access to lawyers, Inlender said.

Afterward, the family was split up. 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 and scheduled to be transferred to a detention facility in Texas.

When attorneys from Public Counsel and the firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher caught wind, they filed an emergency motion for a restraining order in federal court to prevent the government from transferring the family out of state.

“We were fortunate to hear about this family’s detention … but what if word hadn’t gotten to us?” Robert Blume, a partner at the law firm who represented the family, said in a statement.

The family was released on parole four days after arriving in the U.S. and allowed to travel to their original destination in Washington.

A resettlement agency helped the family find an apartment, but until last week their future in the U.S. remained in limbo.

The father has enrolled in a college program to improve his English, and his kids began school this week.

“I am happy, but this is a case where it’s so clear that none of this should have happened,” Inlender said. “This is a family that served our country and so it’s a bittersweet victory.”

melissa.etehad@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter @melissaetehad

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World