A family of five from Afghanistan with valid visas to move to the United States was reportedly detained at the Los Angeles International Airport when they arrived on Thursday, (2 March). They have been in custody in California ever since, according to papers filed by human rights lawyers in a federal district court in Los Angeles.
The family was granted Special Immigrant Visas in exchange for the work the father did for the government of the United States in Afghanistan, said International Refugee Assistance Project in its court filing.
The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) held them in isolation and did not give them access to legal counsel, the petition said.
It further states that the family was taken into custody "with absolutely no justification whatsoever".
"Despite repeated requests, the CBP has provided no information regarding why the family was detained, whether they have been questioned, and whether any reason at all exists to justify their continued detention."
"The betrayal of this family by the U.S. government shocks the conscience," it reads.
According to Reuters, CBP refused to comment on the matter.
The director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, Becca Heller said: "I've never, ever heard of this happening. They go through so many layers of security clearance, including one right before they get on the plane."
The petition also urged the court to release the family and called the detention "egregious, inhumane and unconstitutional".
"It's just a complete travesty. It would be if it were happening to anybody, but especially someone who spent years and years risking his life for the US," Heller said.
She also said that the father was being held at a detention centre in Orange County, California while the mother and children were taken to a centre in downtown Los Angeles.
On Saturday, a federal judge in Los Angeles issued a temporary restraining order to stop the mother and the three young children from being put on a plane to Texas. The judge did not order for the family to be released but set a hearing date for Monday, (6 March).
A spokesperson for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said that they "will fully comply with the March 4 judicial order and all other legal requirements".
Another lawyer from the firm Gibson Dunn that is representing the family pro-bono said that the situation at the airport was "chaotic, panicked; it was a mess".
"The whole time the children are crying, the woman is crying. They can't understand what's going on," the lawyer added.
The visas were created by the US Congress for Iraqi and Afghan citizens who helped the US government or military as interpreters and drivers and other jobs — jobs that would put their lives at risk.