By Haley Britzky, CNN
Criminal charges have been dropped against an Afghan national who served with the US military in Afghanistan and was apprehended after fleeing to the US by crossing the southern border with Mexico.
Abdul Wasi Safi, called Wasi, served alongside US special operations forces in Afghanistan as an Afghan special forces soldier and fled the country after the US’ withdrawal was complete in August 2021. He traveled to the US on his own, and in September 2022 he was detained after he entered over the southern border from Mexico.
Safi’s case has drawn the attention of veteran groups and US lawmakers who pushed for the charges to be dropped and the Biden administration to take action and grant him the right to stay in the country while he awaited a hearing on his asylum claim.
Safi’s immigration attorney, Jennifer Cervantes, told CNN that he intended to seek asylum, but was unfamiliar with the reporting requirements and did not go to an established port of entry.
“He didn’t understand that he needed to go to a port of entry to ask for asylum, otherwise this case would have been very different,” Cervantes said on Wednesday. “Wasi’s not from the southern border, he’s not from Latin America, and so he wasn’t really aware of how to actually present himself for asylum … He thought that he needed to apply as soon as he found a CBP (Customs and Border Protection) official to give him his documents, and that’s exactly what he did.”
Safi was ultimately charged with failing to comply with reporting requirements, but court records show that the charges were dismissed by a Texas judge on Monday.
The news was announced on Tuesday evening by Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.
“Mr. Safi came across the Rio Grande with a group of migrants after being beaten in another country and desperate to find a way to reach America to see freedom,” Jackson Lee said in a statement on Tuesday. “Unfortunately, his entry was at a non-port of entry and Mr. Safi has been held ever since in detention facilities. What happened over the last couple of weeks was a strategic and forceful effort to bring all agencies together to make the right decision for Mr. Safi.”
Jackson Lee took a role in helping get the charges dropped by reaching out to leadership of US agencies to speak to Safi’s standing as an Afghan soldier and individual who worked alongside US forces, she told CNN on Wednesday.
“I’m very grateful to the leadership of the Department of Defense who answered my call immediately and provided important and valuable information,” she said, though she declined to provide more details on what that assistance looked like.
“I’m grateful to say thank you to my government,” Jackson Lee added. “Thank you to my president, and thank you to the leadership of the different agencies including the Department of Defense that really understood his plight and worked hard to ensure that we moved this process along.”
Sami-ullah Safi, Wasi Safi’s brother who goes by Sami and who also worked alongside the US military in Afghanistan before he became a US citizen in July 2021, celebrated the news on Wednesday but told CNN he still has questions.
“He came to the same country that he fought alongside, and to his surprise he was singled out and treated as a criminal. Is this how America treats its allies and those who sacrificed alongside Americans in Afghanistan?” Sami Safi said. “My service for the military should have been valued. My brother’s service to the military should have been valued.”
Wasi Safi ‘served faithfully alongside US Special Operations Forces’
According to a letter sent to President Joe Biden by a coalition of US veterans groups, Wasi Safi “served faithfully alongside US Special Operations Forces” and “continued to support the Northern resistance against the Taliban” during the US withdrawal in 2021. But as the Taliban consolidated power, it was clear Wasi Safi would be at extreme risk because of his work with the US special operations community.
Sami Safi previously told CNN that his brother received “multiple voicemails” while he was still in Afghanistan that said his fellow Afghan service members were being captured and killed by the Taliban.
So Wasi Safi began the journey to the US. The letter from the US veterans groups said that he “traveled on foot or by bus through 10 countries, surviving torture, robbery, and attempts on his life, to seek asylum in the United States from the threat on his life and expecting a hero’s welcome from his American allies.” Instead, he was apprehended by Border Patrol and has been in their custody since.
And while the charges against him were dropped, the road for Wasi Safi and his brother is not over.
Cervantes has requested that Customs and Border Patrol drops its retainer on Wasi Safi before he is transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. The detainer is “fairly common,” she said, because CBP “want him to be transferred to ICE and do a credible fear interview.”
“Right now, we’re kind of going back and forth between CBP — I’m asking CBP to release their detainer and actually issue him an OAR parole (an immigration status for Afghan migrants), which is what the United States issues to most Afghans that they brought in because I think that’s the right thing to do in this case,” Cervantes said. “However, if they don’t do that, he’ll be transferred to ICE custody, and we’ll be trying to get him released from ICE.”
She added that she doesn’t have “any doubt” that Wasi Safi will be able to pass the credible fear interview.
“We’ll hopefully be able to get him released from all custody here shortly,” Cervantes said, “and that the government will really see not only his service to the United States — Wasi worked in counterterrorism, so he was trying to prevent terrorist attacks. So not only will they hopefully see that, but also again the threat to his life.”
Sami Safi said his brother’s immigration status is the next hurdle that he is going to start working on immediately.
“The biggest challenge that I have to now start working on would be his immigration status — what status America is willing to give him with all his sacrifice,” he said.
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