U.S. Blocked From Deporting Visa-Holding Afghan

PHILADELPHIA (CN) – The Third Circuit halted the deportation Wednesday of an Afghan man who had worked with the U.S. military in his home country.

Though a federal judge in New Jersey refused to grant an emergency injunction earlier that day, the federal appeals court issued an emergency injunction that afternoon and expedited the case’s appeal.

The name of the immigrant in question is under wraps, but the American Civil Liberties Union has identified their client as a 25-year-old man who has since 2012 held a special immigrant visa as part of his work in assisting U.S. military in his home country of Afghanistan. Special immigrant visas, or 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,” the ACLU said in a statement Thursday.

Though their client has spent the last few days at the Elizabeth Detention Center, the ACLU says immigration officials kept the man at Newark Liberty International Airport for 28 hours upon his March 13 arrival.  He allegedly spent that entire time in a waiting room without a bed or cot on which to sleep.

He could have been deported Wednesday evening if not for the emergency stay granted by U.S. Circuit Judge L. Felipe Restrepo.

The ACLU’s International Refugee Assistance Project has accused immigration officials of trying to have their client deported immediately and trying to prevent him from meeting with counsel.

Though they contend that their client’s visa was canceled “against his will,” U.S. officials have painted a different picture. They say the man voluntarily withdrew his application for U.S. admission during questioning at the airport, telling officers that he has no fear of returning to Afghanistan.

In the earlier order denying an injunction, U.S. District Judge Jose Linares said the court lacks jurisdiction over matters in which a petitioner does not possess a valid visa. “The authority to admit or to exclude the petitioner, who is an alien and who does not hold a valid visa, lies strictly with the executive branch,” the 4-page opinion says.

The ACLU noted that their client’s situation is similar to those of many immigrants in the wake of President Donald Trump’s efforts to limit entry into the United States by Muslim travelers.

As the Third Circuit came through for the ACLU’s client, a federal judge in Hawaii issued the first injunction against Trump’s revised travel ban.

Trump maintains that his ban is constitutional.

“We’re going to fight this terrible ruin, we’re going to take our case as far as it needs to go, including all the way up to the Supreme Court,” Trump told supporters at a March 15 rally.

“And let me tell you something, I think we ought to go back to the first one and go all the way, which is what I wanted to do in the first place.”

Afghanistan is not among the six countries listed in Trump’s amended immigration ban. Citizens of Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria and Libya are affected. 

Citizens of Afghanistan seeking special immigrant visas do, however, face a lengthy and ambiguous process. The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan has also reportedly stopped allowing new SIV applications, making it more difficult.

In an interview, ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero said that customs officials coerced their client into withdrawing his application for the special visa and later said he could reapply for his visa back in Afghanistan. Calling that claim misleading, LoCicero noted that the embassy there is no longer accepting reapplications.

“They promised this man refuge, and he put his life at risk because of the work he was doing for the U.S. military,” LoCicero said. “At the border that was ripped away from him without any due process.”

The unseasonal blizzard that ravaged New Jersey on Tuesday may have helped save the ACLU’s client an immediate trip back to Afghanistan, LoCicero added.

In its habeas petition, the ACLU describes the ongoing detention of their client “not only egregious and inhumane, but unconstitutional and illegal.”

Last week a federal judge in Los Angeles halted an attempt by immigration officials to deny entry to a family with three young children.