Detained Afghan Family, Represented by Gibson Dunn and Public Counsel, Released and Reunited

March 7, 2017

The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California considered yesterday an Emergency Motion for Temporary Injunctive Relief brought by a family of five from Afghanistan, who arrived in the United States on Thursday, March 2 in possession of Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), who were detained.  Shortly before the hearing began, after a series of requests, the government released the entire family on parole.  At this time, the entire family – father, mother and three children – are reunited and safely residing outside of ICE and CBP custody. 

The hearing proceeded as scheduled, during which the parties updated the Court that the family had been released on parole, the government considered the family’s SIVs valid, and that no removal proceedings had been instituted against the family.  The family was represented by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP and Public Counsel.  An admissibility interview date has been set for the family in early April. 

"After the threats and violence the father had experienced in Afghanistan because of his work for our country, the family looked forward to a new life here.  It is an incredible injustice to treat the family like this after scrupulous vetting and background checks and after the father provided years of dedicated service to the United States government.  The family’s arrest and detention were improper, and the denial of access to legal counsel for more than 40 hours violated the tenets of decency, public policy and, most importantly, the Constitution of the United States.  We are extremely pleased to see the family released from detention and reunited, though we are disheartened that this was a battle that needed to be fought in the first place, " said Robert Blume, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, who represents the family.

The United States awarded the SIVs to this family because of the father’s work on behalf of the U.S. government in Afghanistan, where he served on an Air Force base alongside U.S. military personnel and contractors.  Before receiving the visas, the United States consul thoroughly vetted and examined all five family members, including the father and mother and their three young sons, ages 7, 6, and 8 months. 

However, when the family (whose identity is being protected for their safety) arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on March 2, they were immediately taken into custody and detained for more than 40 hours without access to counsel.  Gibson Dunn and Public Counsel filed a habeas petition on March 4, demanding, among other things, meaningful access to counsel for the family.  The petition was filed on behalf of the International Refugee Assistance Project as a "next friend" of the family, as well as on behalf of the individual family members.  It was shortly after this petition was filed that counsel learned that the father had been removed and placed in a detention center in Orange County, California.  The mother and three children, on the other hand, were immediately booked on a flight to Texas where they would be placed in a detention facility. 

At this point in time on Saturday, Gibson Dunn and Public Counsel filed an emergency motion to prevent the transport of the wife and children out of the state, which would have further prevented access to counsel.  While the motion was pending, three attorneys from Gibson Dunn deployed to LAX to find the family and prevent them from boarding the plane.  As the flight was boarding, the court issued an order preventing ICE from transporting the family outside of Los Angeles. 

"It is unacceptable that this family came here to start their new life, and instead of a welcome mat they were nearly torn apart," said Caitlin Bellis, a Yale Liman Fellow with Public Counsel. "It was only because of the quick actions of the legal teams involved that the mother and the three children didn’t end up in a detention facility in Texas. That is no way to thank a family for their service."

"Witnessing the scene at LAX on Saturday only underscored how important this work is.  The family was clearly terrified and had no understanding of what they were being asked to do or why," said Abbey Hudson, a lawyer with Gibson Dunn.  "The children were crying, the mother – who doesn’t speak English – was trying to wrangle all three children, while dealing with instructions from the agents on the ground telling her to board a flight to Texas.  We were very happy to be able to connect with her in time to prevent this from happening and to provide her with an advocate at this time of great need." 

IRAP’s Director, Becca Heller commented: "It is completely outrageous that immigration enforcement acted with such lack of transparency and accountability, especially towards our military allies.  Congress created the Special Immigrant Visa program to protect those whose lives are in danger because of their service.  The administration granted this family a visa after a multi-year screening process, in recognition of the dangers they faced because of the father’s faithful and valuable service to the U.S. When they arrived, instead of being protected and welcomed, the family was separated and detained for three days with no access to courts or lawyers. If this is how we treat our allies, we will not have allies for long."

The admissibility interview set for early April is the interview that should have taken place at the airport when the family first arrived in the United States.  It is expected to include a review of the family’s SIVs, which the government has already confirmed are valid and have not been revoked.  Gibson Dunn and Public Counsel will continue to work with this family to ensure that they are able to take advantage of the benefits afforded to them under their SIVs. 

"While the fight to help this brave family is not over, the Gibson Dunn team was very proud to have stopped the removal of this mother and her three children from Los Angeles on Saturday evening.  And, even happier to secure the release of the entire family from detention.  This family risked their lives to help the United States, and we will work to see that they receive what they were promised by this country – namely the chance to relocate here and raise their children in a safe, stable place," said Katherine Marquart, pro bono counsel at Gibson Dunn and one of the attorneys representing the family.  "Gibson Dunn, Public Counsel and the International Refugee Assistance Project are proud to ensure that the government keeps its promise to this family and provides them a safe haven here in the United States."