U.S. troops patrol in Afghanistan. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters) By Alex Horton Alex Horton General assignment reporter covering national and breaking news Email Bio Follow January 12 at 4:17 AM KABUL — A former interpreter for U.S. troops in Afghanistan was detained Friday in Houston’s international airport with his family and threatened with deportation 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 following 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 and his family were granted special immigrant visas allotted for Afghans and Iraqis who supported U.S. war efforts and endangered because of their work, usually by the Taliban and other militants who consider them traitors and prize their capture.
Motawakil served as an interpreter for U.S. troops from 2012-2013, and later as a U.S. contractor, Fitzgerald said. 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, the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul did not return a request for comment. The Houston Chronicle, which first covered the story , reported agency officials could not respond due to the government shutdown.
[ They risked their lives to help U.S. troops. Now they’re driving for Lyft to get by. ]
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 those visas and resettled in the U.S. 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 to 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 was 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 swags 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.
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LINK ORIGINAL: Washington Post