For­mer in­ter­preter for U.S. troops in Afghanistan de­tained by bor­der agency

The Mercury News - - News - By Alex Hor­ton The Wash­ing­ton Post

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN >> A for­mer in­ter­preter for U.S. troops in Afghanistan was de­tained Fri­day af­ter ar­riv­ing at a Hous­ton air­port with his fam­ily and threat­ened with de­por­ta­tion back to Kabul, a le­gal ser­vice ad­vo­cacy group said, in a move that could jeop­ar­dize his life.

Mo­hasif Motawakil, 48, was de­tained by Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion. The agency al­lowed his wife and five chil­dren to be re­leased at 10 p.m. Fri­day af­ter pres­sure from law­mak­ers, said Wil­liam Fitzger­ald, a spokesman for the Refugee and Im­mi­grant Cen­ter for Education and Le­gal Ser­vices. An at­tor­ney for RAICES is rep­re­sent­ing Motawakil.

Motawakil served as an in­ter­preter for U.S. troops from 2012-2013 and later as a U.S. con­trac­tor, Fitzger­ald said.

He and his fam­ily had been granted special im­mi­grant visas al­lot­ted for Afghans and Iraqis who sup­ported U.S. war ef­forts and are en­dan­gered be­cause of their work, usu­ally by the Tal­iban and other mil­i­tants who con­sider them traitors and prize their cap­ture.

The Special Im­mi­grant Visa process takes years for many ap­pli­cants, who must get let­ters of sup­port from U.S. of­fi­cials to vouch for them and must demon­strate their lives have been im­per­iled.

Some­one, po­ten­tially in the fam­ily, opened sealed med­i­cal records, prompt­ing Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion to de­tain the fam­ily over con­cerns the records could have been “faked,” Fitzger­ald told The Wash­ing­ton Post. “Then [CBP] said they would be de­ported,” he said, adding that the fam­ily is “con­fused and trau­ma­tized” over the or­deal.

CBP said the fam­ily was de­tained af­ter a rou­tine in­spec­tion, but agents de­clined to pro­vide de­tails, cit­ing pri­vacy laws.

“The fa­ther re­mains de­tained and his wife and chil­dren were al­lowed into the U.S. pend­ing the out­come of his pro­ceed­ings,” the agency said in a state­ment Satur­day.

A State De­part­ment in­for­ma­tion page in­structs im­mi­grants not to open their sealed doc­u­ment packet, but it does not sug­gest why or warn im­mi­grants about po­ten­tial con­se­quences. It was not clear why or how the packet was opened.

The State De­part­ment re­ferred ques­tions to CBP and de­clined to com­ment, cit­ing the gov­ern­ment shut­down. The U.S. Em­bassy in Kabul did not re­turn a re­quest for com­ment.

An at­tor­ney for RAICES has not been able to meet with Motawakil, Fitzger­ald said.

“How un­just that this Afghan fam­ily, who helped our mil­i­tary, is in same air­port as coun­sel — & yet have been walled off from one an­other,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, said on Twit­ter.

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