Afghan in­ter­preter who as­sisted U.S. troops de­tained in Texas

He and his fam­ily had been granted special visas to come to the U.S.

The Washington Post Sunday - - FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN - BY ALEX HOR­TON alex.hor­[email protected]­post.com

kabul — 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, 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 fol­low­ing pres­sure from law­mak­ers, said Wil­liam Fitzger­ald, a spokesman for the Refugee and Im­mi­grant Cen­ter for Education and Le­gal Ser­vices (RAICES). An at­tor­ney for RAICES is rep­re­sent­ing Motawakil.

Motawakil served as an in­ter­preter for U.S. troops from 20122013 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 were 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 CBP 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 de­clined to pro­vide more 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-Tex.) said on Twit­ter.

Doggett made calls to CBP, and Reps. Sheila Jack­son Lee and Al Green, both Texas Democrats, went to the air­port in sup­port of Motawakil, Fitzger­ald said.

Thou­sands of Afghans and their fam­i­lies have re­ceived special im­mi­grant visas and re­set­tled in the United States since 2009, when the pro­gram be­gan. There were 2,410 prin­ci­pal ap­pli­cants who ar­rived with fam­ily mem­bers in 2018 — a 50 per­cent de­cline com­pared to the pre­vi­ous year.

The num­ber of visa ap­provals also fell by 60 per­cent in 2018 com­pared with the pre­vi­ous year, ac­cord­ing to State De­part­ment data.

No One Left Be­hind, an ad­vo­cacy group for for­mer in­ter­preters, has said height­ened vet­ting mea­sures by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion were to blame, and wait­ing years for ap­proval places them in “se­verely dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions,” said Kirt Lewis, the group’s pro­grams di­rec­tor.

About 19,000 Afghan prin­ci­pal ap­pli­cants are in some part of the vet­ting process for the visas, ac­cord­ing to the State De­part­ment. They are wait­ing as a resur­gent Tal­iban con­trols swaths of Afghanistan, prompt­ing for­mer in­ter­preters to go into hid­ing.

Motawakil’s fam­ily was taken in for the night by the Afghan Cul­tural Cen­ter in Hous­ton, though their fate in the United States, along with Motawakil, has yet to be de­ter­mined, Fitzger­ald said.

“The Afghan SIV pro­gram of­fers pro­tec­tion to peo­ple who served faith­fully along U.S. gov­ern­ment per­son­nel and who are in dan­ger be­cause of that ser­vice,” said Betsy Fisher, the pol­icy di­rec­tor for the In­ter­na­tional Refugee As­sis­tance Project. “Surely the U.S. gov­ern­ment can re­solve a triv­ial is­sue with an opened en­ve­lope to pro­tect some­one who faces per­se­cu­tion as a U.S. wartime part­ner.”

MU­NIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

U.S. Army soldiers near Baraki Barak base in Logar Prov­ince, Afghanistan, in Oc­to­ber 2012. Mo­hasif Motawakil, 48, who served as an in­ter­preter for U.S. troops in Afghanistan from 2012-2013 and was later a con­trac­tor, was de­tained by Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion.

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