Abdul, a young man who received a visa because his work for the U.S. government endangered his life, was granted asylum and freed from unjust prolonged ICE detention

May 9, 2018

More than a year after his unjust imprisonment began, Abdul – a man from Afghanistan who was promised refuge in the United States – was finally freed.

Despite holding a visa reserved for Afghan citizens who put their lives at risk because of their work for the American government or its contractors, Abdul was detained and nearly sent back to Afghanistan when he landed at Newark Airport in March 2017. For nearly 14 months, up until his release the evening of May 8, he was confined in the Elizabeth Detention Center, the equivalent of a federal jail.

Abdul, who was represented by the ACLU-NJ and pro bono immigration lawyer Jason Scott Camilo, was granted asylum in the United States and released from immigration detention. He has also received the support of local refugee advocates and International Refugee Assistance Project.

"Abdul came to the United States at our government's invitation, because his service to our armed forces and diplomatic personnel put his life at risk," said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Farrin Anello, who represented Abdul along with other attorneys. "In granting him asylum, the immigration judge recognized the same danger. We are overjoyed that Abdul has finally been released and can live in safety. By senselessly stopping him at the airport, attempting to deport him, and forcing him to spend more than a year of his life in jail with no justification, our immigration agencies abused their power."

Abdul was detained at Newark Liberty International Airport on March 13, 2017, shortly before the Trump Administration's revised travel ban was set to take effect. On March 24, 2017, the U.S. government found that he had a credible asylum claim because of his service to our armed forces, but he was held in detention for more than a year after that decision.

The government's treatment of Abdul is part of a larger pattern of cruel policies toward asylum seekers and immigrants, such as the Muslim Ban, blanket denial of discretionary release from detention, and the separation of families at the border. The ACLU has challenged all of these policies in the courts. The Muslim Ban has led to profiling of Muslim travelers like Abdul even when their entry was not barred by the terms of the ban itself.

Abdul had worked at dining facilities for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, and as a result, he became the target of violent attacks and intimidation by the Taliban. He arrived in the United States on a valid visa, sponsored by a retired U.S. Army sergeant, after the U.S. government vetted him extensively in Afghanistan. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents detained him at the airport for over 28 hours, refused to let his attorneys meet with him, and pressured and misled him into signing documents without representation.

"Abdul was detained without any purpose for 14 months, which is 14 months longer than it should have been," said immigration attorney Jason Scott Camilo, who began representing Abdul when he was detained at Newark Liberty International Airport. "Abdul now has asylum and is finally free, as he should have been from the moment he stepped foot on U.S. soil. Instead of thanking Abdul for the work he did for the government that put him at risk, immigration officials put him in jail for more than a year. This inhuman treatment needs to end now, not just for immigrants and refugees in New Jersey, but throughout the country."

After the Trump administration revoked his visa, CBP attempted to send Abdul back to Afghanistan, where his life would be in immediate danger. Hours before he was to be removed, attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and Seton Hall University School of Law Center for Social Justice filed a habeas petition and sought a temporary restraining order to protect him from removal.

"Abdul came here expecting refuge. Instead, he spent his first year in America living in a federal jail, and for no legitimate purpose," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha. "None of this happened the way our government had promised or the way Abdul deserved for it to be. The people who work in our federal government, from the highest officials in the capital to the employees on the ground, need to end their cruelty at the border and treat everyone who comes to our shores with dignity. We're relieved about this decision, but it's tinged with sadness – for the inexcusable delay in Abdul starting his life here, and for the many immigrants who face often insurmountable challenges and agonizing delays in our immigration system."

This press release can be read online at: https://www.aclu-nj.org/news/2018/05/09/afghan-refugee-freed-after-unjust-yearlong-detention

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