U.S. Customs and Border Protection held and denied counsel to man who aided U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan

A man from Afghanistan who assisted the U.S. military will not be deported after winning a temporary emergency order allowing him to stay in the country pending further proceedings.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued a temporary emergency stay March 15 preventing the deportation of John Doe, a citizen of Afghanistan who sought to enter the United States on a Special Immigrant Visa, also referred to as an SIV, at Newark Liberty International Airport. He was represented by the ACLU of New Jersey and Seton Hall Law School Center for Social Justice, thanks to the International Refugee Assistance Project’s intervention on his behalf.

SIVs are issued to Afghans and Iraqis who have provided assistance to the U.S. armed forces for more than a year and are in grave danger in their home country as a result of that assistance. His visa was cancelled against his will upon his entry to the United States on Monday, March 14.

“The Executive Branch cannot promise people safe travel to the U.S. only to rip it away without due process,” said ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero, who represents Mr. Doe. “People’s lives hang in the balance. We will continue to fight for Mr. Doe’s safe entry to the U.S., and we will stay vigilant. We are relieved that the judge issued a stay, but we remain extremely disturbed by the executive branch’s abuses of power and disregard for constitutional rights.”

Because lawyers did not have access to Mr. Doe, the International Refugee Assistance Project served as his surrogate in the filings.

Mr. Doe was detained at Newark International Airport after arriving on Monday evening. Even though the U.S. government thoroughly vetted Mr. Doe and recognized his record of service by issuing him a SIV, CBP detained him at the airport for more than 28 hours without any explanation or legal counsel, during which time the U.S. State Department revoked his visa at CBP’s request. He was then transferred to Elizabeth Detention Center, where he still remains.

“In order to receive an SIV, both the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security must make a determination that the applicant ‘has experienced or is experiencing an ongoing serious threat’ as a consequence of assisting the U.S. military,” the habeas petition said. “Thus, in the case of an approved SIV, such as that of Mr. Doe, the Departments of State and Homeland Security have already determined his life to be at risk. Mr. Doe traveled to the United States in reliance on the promise of this safe haven.”

“The decision to detain Mr. Doe and deny him access to counsel is not only egregious and inhumane, but unconstitutional and illegal,” the habeas petition continued.

Mr. Doe’s case is the second case this month that involves the detention of SIV holders attempting to legally enter the U.S., and last week a federal judge in Los Angeles halted an attempt by immigration officials to deny entry to a family with three young children.

Read the habeas petition (PDF), court filings submitted by the ACLU-NJ (PDF) and IRAP (PDF), and the judge’s opinion issuing the stay (PDF).