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An Afghan family of five who obtained special visas to relocate to the U.S. were detained by immigration officials when they arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on Thursday and have been in custody ever since, according to court records and their attorneys.
The mother, father and their three children, including a baby, arrived at LAX for a connecting flight to Washington state, where they planned to resettle. Instead, they were detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement "with absolutely no justification whatsoever," according to a federal court petition filed Saturday by the International Refugee Assistance Project seeking the family's release.
The petition argues that 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.
Becca Heller, the director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, said Sunday that the father was being held at a detention center in Orange County. Though his wife and children initially were taken to a similar facility in Los Angeles, more recently they were being detained in a hotel, she said.
"It's just a complete travesty," Heller said. "It would be if it were happing to anybody, but especially someone who spent years and years risking his life for the U.S."
U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton issued a temporary restraining order late Saturday banning the government from removing the family from California. The order came within an hour of a flight to Texas that the government had planned to place the mother and children on, the judge said, according to the order.
"The mother cannot read or speak English and her children are aged 7 years, 6 years, and 8 months old," according to the order. "The balance of equities tip in their favor and the injunction is in the public interest."
An ICE spokesman said Sunday that the agency would fully comply with the judge's order "and all other legal requirements" but declined to say why the family was detained.
A hearing on the family's case is scheduled for Monday.
The family's names haven't been released for their own protection.
Heller declined to discuss the type of work the father had done for the U.S. government, but she said he spent years working on U.S. military bases.
Asked why the family was detained, she cited the Trump administration.
"I think we're going to see more and more of this happening by rogue immigration officials drunk on the power they derive from an administration intent on discriminating against immigrants and Muslims," Heller said. "The government is looking for a pretext to detain anyone who is Muslim."
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.
Trump's order is on hold, and the administration plans to issue a new one.