The scene at the airport was “chaotic, panicked; it was a mess,” said Lali Madduri, a lawyer with the firm Gibson Dunn, which is representing the family pro bono. “The whole time the children are crying, the woman is crying. They can’t understand what’s going on.
”The father had arrived on Thursday with his wife and three children, ages 7, 6 and 8 months, on Special Immigrant Visas, according to the lawyers’ habeas corpus petition filed on Saturday in Federal District Court in Los Angeles. Those visas were created by Congress for citizens in Iraq and Afghanistan who have helped the United States military or government as drivers, interpreters or in other jobs — work that often makes them targets in their home countries.But instead of being allowed to enter the United States, the family has been detained, according to the court papers.
“I’ve never, ever heard of this happening,” said Becca Heller, the director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, or IRAP, which filed the petition. “They go through so many layers of security clearance, including one right before they get on the plane. ”Calling the detention “egregious, inhumane and unconstitutional,” the group petitioned the court to release the family, whose names were not publicly revealed. The judge did not order the family be released, but set a hearing in the case for Monday.According to Ms. Heller, the father was being held Saturday night at a men’s immigration detention facility in Orange County, Calif. His wife and children were taken to a detention center in downtown Los Angeles.