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