Afghan family detained in LA despite visas released

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Members of an Afghan family who were detained at Los Angeles International Airport and held for four days despite having special entry visas issued because the father worked for the U.S. government in Afghanistan were released from custody Monday.

Attorneys working on the behalf of the family of five said they were notified around midday that the family would be released. Los Angeles attorney Robert Blume, who is representing the family, said he was notified that the family was being released "to a parole status.''

At an afternoon court hearing, Blume and attorney Mark Rosenbaum argued to U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton that the government should release the family from the parole status, but Staton said she would "``retain jurisdiction'' over the matter and told prosecutors to give her 72 hours notice if an agency wants to deport the family or detain them.

Federal authorities still have not said why the family was detained.

An April 5 meeting is scheduled for the family to be interviewed by government officials about their visa status. Blume and Rosenbaum said it made little sense for the government to go through with that meeting, because it sends a message to foreign nationals abroad who serve the United States, as this family did, that they could be subjected to detention no matter what promises are made to them.

"To repay them for that service by stripping them of their liberty is an egregious injustice,'' Blume told reporters after the hearing.

Blume argued that the government "swung and missed' when it detained the family, and the government should "admit their mistake'' and let the family go. If the family had not been detained they would have been asked a few routine questions by customs officials and their visa and passport would be stamped, Blume said.

He also said the government should apologize to the family.

The family applied for the special immigration visa in 2015 and were subjected to lengthy "vetting,'' the attorneys said. That review is much more exhaustive than any other application for a visa, they argued.

Rosenbaum characterized the detention and "incommunicado'' status -- with the family initially unable to speak to an attorney -- as "Kafkaesque.''

Still unexplained is why the family was taken into custody in the first place, the attorneys said. If prosecutors had a "shred of evidence'' it would have been presented to the judge Monday, Rosenbaum said.

Prosecutors moved to free the family about 90 minutes before the Monday afternoon hearing.

The family of five, which includes the couple's three sons, ages 7, 6 and 8 months, received visas because of the father's work for the U.S. government in Afghanistan, their attorneys said. The father served on an Air Force base with other U.S. military officials and contractors, according to the attorneys.

When the family arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on Thursday, "they were immediately taken into custody and detained for more than 40 hours without access to counsel,'' their attorneys said.

The International Refugee Assistant Project filed legal papers on behalf of the family. After those court papers were filed, the father was sent to a detention center in Orange County, the attorneys said, while the mother and their three sons were scheduled to be taken to a detention facility in Texas.

Staton issued a temporary restraining order Saturday night barring officials from moving any of the family members out of California.

The family of five were scheduled to board a connecting flight to Seattle where they were going to resettle. Now they are free to continue on to their destination in Richland, Washington, attorneys said.

After being held 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.

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. There's also concern for extended family back in Afghanistan, the attorneys said.

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