HOUSTON — An Afghan U.S. asylum-seeking soldier who was arrested trying to cross the Mexican border has been released and reunited with his brother after spending months in immigration detention, his attorney said Wednesday.
The release of Abdul Wasi Safi from an Eden, Texas detention center came after a judge dropped an immigration charge against him at the request of federal prosecutors.
Wasi Safi, an intelligence officer with the Afghan National Security Forces, fled Afghanistan after US forces withdrew in August 2021, fearing retaliation from the Taliban for providing US forces with information on terrorists. In the summer of 2022, he began a treacherous journey from Brazil to the US-Mexico border, where he was arrested in September near Eagle Pass, Texas. He was hoping 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 receiving medical treatment at an undisclosed location but planned to speak at a Friday press conference in Houston.
Fertitta said Wasi Safi and her brother “are thrilled 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 danger to the United States. He has done a lot of good service in the United States,” Cervantes said.
US Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Houston, belongs to a bipartisan group of lawmakers who worked to free Wasi Safi. She said in a statement Tuesday evening that she expected him to arrive in his hometown by Friday.
The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees Customs and Border Protection and ICE, did not respond to an email seeking comment Wednesday.
Sami-ullah Safi, Wasi Safi’s brother, was employed by the US military for several years as a translator. Sami Safi said he was glad 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 injuries from beatings, 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 worrying they became.
“I will have to wait to be advised by the medical staff on this,” Fertitta said.
Lawyers, lawmakers and military organizations who worked to free Wasi Safi say his case shows how the chaotic U.S. military withdrawal continues to harm Afghan citizens who helped the U.S. but were left behind. account.
Nearly 76,000 Afghans who had worked with American soldiers since 2001 as translators, interpreters and partners arrived in the United States on military aircraft after the American 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 other Afghans seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border had also struggled to have 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, what I think is right for them.”