Attorneys have filed a petition seeking the release of an Afghan family of five who were detained by officials when they arrived at Los Angeles international airport (LAX) on Thursday.
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Lawyers say the mother and father and their three children landed for a connecting flight to Seattle, where they planned to resettle. But they were detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The Los Angeles Times that the International Refugee Assistance Project had filed a petition in federal court on Saturday, seeking the release of the family.
The petition argues that the family, whose children are aged seven, six and eight months, were approved for relocation after intense vetting because the father had been employed by the US government in .
Talia Inlender, an attorney from Public Counsel, a not-for-profit group that provides free legal services, told the Times she did not know what kind of work the father had done. US visas are often granted to interpreters.
Inlender told the Times the detention of the family “shocks the conscience”.
“These are the people we should be putting out the welcome mat for,” she said. “They’re putting their own lives and families at risk, and instead of providing them that welcome mat, we are detaining them.”
Inlender told the Times the family had been split up, the father being taken to one detention center and the mother and children to another. She said she believed the mother and children were now at LAX.
The US district judge Josephine Staton issued a temporary restraining order late on 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 seven years, six years, and eight months old,” the order said. “The balance of equities tip in their favor and the injunction is in the public interest.”
Staton scheduled a hearing in the matter for Monday.
An Ice spokesman said the agency would fully comply with the judge’s order “and all other legal requirements” but declined to say why the family had been detained.
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The family’s names were not released because attorneys had not received permission to make them public and said doing so could put them in harm’s way, according to the Times.
The case, Inlender said, was reminiscent of many in the aftermath of an executive order issued by the Trump administration in January, which shut down refugee admissions to the US and put temporary holds on all admission from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Afghanistan was not included under the order, which covered Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
“I was one of the first attorneys on the ground at LAX when that order came up,” Inlender told the Times. “The past 24 hours has been reminiscent of those moments – the stonewalling and not being allowed access to clients.”
The order caused chaos and confusion at airports and and was eventually blocked by the courts. A is expected in the coming days.