LOS ANGELES (AP) — 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 their attorneys.
The mother and father and their three children arrived at LAX for a connecting flight to Seattle, where they planned to resettle. Instead, they were detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, their attorneys said in court papers.
On Saturday, the International Refugee Assistance Project filed a petition in federal court seeking the family's release, arguing that they were approved for relocation after intense vetting because the father had been employed by the U.S. government in Afghanistan, according to the Los Angeles Times.
"It shocks the conscience," said Talia Inlender, a senior staff attorney with Public Counsel, a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services.
"These are the people we should be putting out the welcome mat for," Inlender told the Times. "They're putting their own lives and families at risk, and instead of providing them that welcome mat we are detaining them."
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 a copy of the order obtained by The Associated Press.
"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."
She scheduled a hearing in the matter for Monday.
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.
Attorneys didn't know what type of work the father had done for the U.S. government. But those who receive special immigration visas like his family did are often Afghan and Iraqi translators and interpreters.
The family's names haven't been released because their attorneys haven't gotten permission to make them public and say doing so could put them in harm's way, according to the Times.
After being detained at LAX for two days, Inlender told the Times that 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.
She believes the mother and children are now at LAX, following the judge's order that prevented them from being taken to a family detention center in Texas.
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.