(LOS ANGELES) — As President Donald Trump prepares a new executive order on immigration, a family of five from Afghanistan sits in two Southern California detention centers waiting to learn why they’re being detained.
The father, mother and three young children — ages 6, 7 and 8 months — arrived at Los Angeles International Airport last Thursday and were immediately detained. They had planned on boarding a connecting flight to Seattle to start a new life in the United States.
According to attorneys fighting on the family’s behalf, all five were holding special immigration visas or SIVs, which are set aside for individuals who have worked for the U.S government in Afghanistan or Iraq and could be harmed in their home country because of their service for the U.S. government.
The father, known in court documents as John Doe, worked for the U.S. government in Afghanistan and the entire family was extensively vetted, their attorneys said.
“These are the type of folks we should be laying out the welcome mat for,” said Talia Inlender, a senior staff attorney at Public Counsel, the non-profit organization fighting for the family’s release.
“With this type of visa there’s a really intense vetting and screening process before an individual sets foot in the United States,” she added.
Afghanistan was not included in Trump’s first immigration executive order and it’s not expected to be included in the new order.
Inlender told ABC News that the family was held for almost two days without any communication and without access to attorneys after arriving at LAX. Then, the family was separated. She said the father is at a detention center in Orange, California, while the mother and three children are being held in downtown Los Angeles.
On Saturday, the International Refugee Project filed a petition in federal court and attorneys were then allowed to meet with the family. Inlender said that’s when they learned the mother and children were possibly going to be moved to a detention center in Texas.
A request for an emergency restraining order was then filed and immediately approved by a federal judge to keep the family in southern California.
The family, while originally detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, is now in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE is refusing to comment on the case but told ABC News it will comply with the temporary restraining order and “all other legal requirements.”
Attorneys representing the family say they have no idea why the government is holding the family and under what justification. ICE has not had to argue for the detention in court yet.
The mother, according to attorneys, can’t read, write or speak English. The attorneys said the family is traumatized and confused because they had the necessary visas to enter the U.S.
“We’re trying to learn the basis for this detention,” said Inlender. “It’s really quite difficult to understand what the justification might be to detain an 8-month-old baby, his two older brothers, ages 7 and 6, and his parents.”
The attorneys said the family should not be separated or detained and are hoping the federal court will order their release.
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