ACLU-NJ Petitions for Immediate Release of Afghan Refugee Who Worked for U.S.

August 15, 2017

Special Immigrant Visa holder, a Muslim citizen of Afghanistan and five-year employee of U.S. government, was detained March 13 despite valid authorization

NEWARK – Advocates today petitioned for the release of an Afghan man who was unjustly detained after arriving in the United States. The man, whose first name is Abdul, entered the country on a special visa for Afghan citizens who put their lives in danger by supporting the U.S. Armed Forces. He was detained at Newark Airport on March 13, shortly before the Trump Administration’s revised travel ban was set to take effect.

Abdul’s visa was granted specifically because his work for the U.S. government made him a target of anti-American militants. The ACLU of New Jersey asked the U.S. District Court to either immediately release Abdul or, at a minimum, order that Abdul receive a bond hearing to determine whether his detention is justified.

The petition contends that despite Abdul having now spent nearly five months in immigration detention, the government has failed to cite any legal basis for its actions against Abdul.

On Friday, August 11, an immigration judge ruled that he would not hold a bond hearing for Abdul and the deportation case against him would proceed. Abdul’s next immigration hearing is scheduled for September 6.

“Our client has been jailed for the past five months in a country that promised to welcome him. It’s an egregious violation of our Constitution,” said ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero. “At the very least, he is entitled to a bond hearing after his prolonged detention. But for his rights to be honored, the government needs to release him.”

The government unlawfully sought to revoke Abdul’s valid visa after Abdul had already been admitted as a lawful permanent resident, or green card holder. Federal law enforcement tried immediately to send him back to Afghanistan, where he would have faced undisputed physical danger – the very reason he was granted a visa to come to the United States.

On March 15, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals granted an emergency stay of removal. This ruling protected Abdul from immediate removal, but he has been kept in unlawful and unconstitutional immigration detention at Elizabeth Detention Center ever since. In the meantime, an asylum officer found that Abdul has a credible fear of persecution in Afghanistan, because he was targeted by members of the Taliban for his service to the United States. However, the government has refused to release him while he awaits a decision on his asylum case.

Abdul, a 25-year-old Muslim citizen of Afghanistan, worked for five years in dining services for the U.S. Armed Forces and U.S. Embassy, providing food service for American troops, diplomats, and high-ranking government officials. Abdul’s attorneys have sought permission for him to await his hearing outside of detention, a request that has not been granted.

“It’s time for the government to correct its mistake and release this young man, who put his life at risk to support our Armed Forces and diplomatic personnel,” said Farrin Anello, ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney. “Our government has now recognized in two separate decisions that Abdul is in danger in Afghanistan because of his service, and it is time to do the right thing.”

Abdul traveled to the United States on a Special Immigrant Visa, which allows holders to enter the U.S. as lawful permanent residents. He received his visa with sponsorship from a retired U.S. Army Sergeant and after undergoing a two-year vetting process by the U.S. government.

When Abdul arrived at Newark-Liberty International Airport, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) stamped his passport to mark both his admission to the U.S. and his transition to LPR status. However, he was then unconstitutionally detained for over 24 hours. During this time, Abdul was denied food, a suitable place to sleep, access to counsel, a call to a consular official, contact with the former Sergeant who sponsored Abdul’s immigration petition, and the aid of an interpreter.

While detaining Abdul, CBP misled him into signing an agreement to voluntarily leave the United States, falsely telling him he had to briefly return to Afghanistan to fix a supposed problem with his visa, but that he would be able to return in a very short period. Abdul, who cannot read English well, signed the document based on this false representation.

Since his arrival, Abdul has passed an initial asylum interview, represented pro bonoby immigration attorney Jason Scott Camilo, Esq. He has since been placed in removal proceedings, where a judge will eventually hear his asylum claim.

“There is no legal basis for Abdul’s detention,” said ACLU-NJ law fellow Alexi Velez. “This man risked his life to assist the United States, and we have shown him our gratitude by unconstitutionally locking him in jail because of his nation of origin and religion. Our government has violated several of its own laws by detaining him – including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s own regulations. Abdul deserves fair treatment, not just because of his service to this country, but because of the fundamental rights that apply to everyone here.”

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