US asylum seeker Afghan soldier freed from immigration

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HOUSTON– A US asylum-seeking Afghan soldier who was arrested trying to cross the border into Mexico has been released and reunited with his brother after spending months in immigration detention, his lawyer said Wednesday.

Abdul Wasi Safi’s release from a detention center in Eden, Texas, came after a judge dropped an immigration charge against him at the request of federal prosecutors.

Wasi Safi, an intelligence officer in the Afghan National Security Forces, fled Afghanistan after US troops withdrew in August 2021, fearing retaliation from the Taliban for providing US troops with information about terrorists. In the summer of 2022, he embarked on a treacherous journey from Brazil to the US-Mexico border, where he was arrested in September near Eagle Pass, Texas. He hoped to join his brother, who lives in Houston.

Prosecutors filed a motion asking a federal judge in Del Rio, Texas to dismiss the immigration charge “in the interests of justice” and on Monday the judge granted the request.

Zachary Fertitta, one of his criminal defense attorneys, said Wednesday that Wasi Safi was undergoing medical treatment at an undisclosed location but planned to speak at a press conference Friday in Houston.

Fertitta said Wasi Safi and her brother are “excited to be reunited”.

Jennifer Cervantes, one of Wasi Safi’s immigration attorneys, said there was no reason to keep him in custody, especially since the FBI had already spoken to him and found no problem.

“He is certainly not a threat to the United States. He has done many good services in the United States,” said Cervantes.

U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Houston, is among a bipartisan group of lawmakers working to free Wasi Safi. She said in a statement Tuesday evening that she expected him to arrive in his hometown on Friday.

The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees Customs and Border Protection and ICE, did not respond to an email asking for comment on Wednesday.

Sami-ullah Safi, brother of Wasi Safi, was employed by the US Army as a translator for several years. Sami Safi said he was happy the criminal case was dropped, but remains frustrated with how his brother was treated in light of his family’s support in the United States in Afghanistan.

“If we categorize my brother’s service, how many lives did he save through his service and how many lives did I save through my service as a combat translator?” says Sami Safi.

Wasi Safi’s case was first reported by The Texas Tribune.

While traveling from Brazil to the United States, Wasi Safi suffered serious beating injuries, including damaged front teeth and hearing loss in his right ear.

Fertitta said Wasi Safi’s injuries were not adequately treated while in custody, but it’s unclear how concerning they became.

“I will have to wait for advice from the medical staff on this,” said Fertitta.

Lawyers, legislators and military organizations who worked to free Wasi Safi say his case shows how the chaotic withdrawal of the US military continues to hurt Afghan civilians who helped the United States but lagged behind.

Nearly 76,000 Afghans who had worked as translators, interpreters and partners with US soldiers since 2001 arrived in the United States by military aircraft after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. But their immigration status remains unclear after Congress failed to pass a bill, the Afghan Adjustment Act, that would have solidified their legal residency status.

Cervantes said Wasi Safi’s case was not unique and that other Afghans seeking asylum on the US-Mexico border also struggled to get their cases properly reviewed. She said she hopes her work “sheds some light on that and[helps]these guys get what I think is the right thing to do, which I think is right for them.”

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: twitter.com/juanlozano70

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