SANTA ANA, Calif. (Reuters) - A federal judge was due on Monday to consider a petition seeking the immediate release of an Afghan family of five said by their lawyers to have been detained by U.S. agents upon their arrival in California, despite having valid visas to enter the country.
The couple and their three young children were granted the visas and resettlement assistance in return for work the father performed for the U.S. government that put the family's lives at risk, the International Refugee Assistance Project said in its court filing on Saturday.
However, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents detained the family shortly after their arrival at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) last Tuesday, and held them in incommunicado without access to legal counsel, according to the petition.
The petition, filed in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, California, south of Los Angeles, says the family was taken into custody, apparently without explanation, and "with absolutely no justification whatsoever."
The filing on their behalf said the family's incarceration is a violation of constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection, as well as a breach of the U.S. Administrative Procedure Act and immigration laws.
The petition did not state the exact nature of the father's employment with the U.S. government in Afghanistan.
But it said he qualified for a special visa under a program requiring proof of having worked for the U.S. Armed Forces or the American diplomatic mission for at least 12 months, "as well as proof of completion of a background check and screening."
It was not clear on what grounds the government detained the family. As of Sunday night, the CBP had declined to comment on the matter, which was set for a hearing on Monday before U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton in Santa Ana. The judge barred a move by the government on Saturday to separate the family by sending the children and their mother, who cannot speak or read English, to Texas.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Bernadette Baum)