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Afghan 'Special Immigrant' Family Released After 5-Day Detention In U.S.


Demonstrators against the immigration rules implemented by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, rally at Los Angeles international airport in Los Angeles on February 4.

An Afghan family of five detained in Los Angeles last week after traveling to the United States on "special immigrant" visas was released on March 6, government officials said.

Lawyers for the family said that it was still not clear why the father, mother, and their three sons were taken into custody at Los Angeles International Airport on March 2, interrogated, and held for some 40 hours.

But attorney Robert Blume portrayed the detention as a mistake by U.S. immigration authorities, saying: "The government swung and missed on this one. They just got it wrong."

The family on arriving in Los Angeles was scheduled to board a connecting flight to the state of Washington where they planned to resettle. Instead, they were detained by agents of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The International Refugee Assistance Project said in its court filing to seek the family's release that the couple and their children were granted "special immigrant visas" in return for work the father had performed for the U.S. government in Afghanistan that put the family's lives at risk.

In order to qualify for that program, applicants go through a difficult and lengthy vetting process that often takes more than five years and requires letters of recommendation from senior U.S. military officers or U.S. government officials in Afghanistan.

During the weekend, a federal judge had issued a temporary order blocking federal authorities from deporting the family back to Afghanistan or removing them from California.

The federal judge's order also had called for a March 6 hearing on their case.

U.S. immigration officials have tightened their border security checks for incoming foreign travelers since President Donald Trump on January 27 issued an executive order that temporarily barred entry into the United States of citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

But that original order -- which called for "extreme vetting" of arriving migrants -- was later blocked by U.S. federal judges.

The detention on March 2 of the Afghan family, whose name was not released, came despite the block on Trump's executive order, and despite the fact that Afghanistan was not one of the seven countries listed under the executive order.

On March 6, Trump signed a revised executive order that freezes the issuance of new visas for citizens from six predominantly Muslim countries – Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.

The revised order, due to come into effect on March 16, says valid pre-existing visas would still be honored for individuals from those six countries.

With reporting by AP and Reuters
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