UNITED STATES NEWS

‘Home is like jail’: Afghan soldier who helped the US weathers injuries, uncertainty in asylum bid

Jun 6, 2023, 10:51 PM | Updated: Jun 7, 2023, 6:50 am

HOUSTON (AP) — The April visit to a Houston clinic was just one of a never-ending assembly line of medical appointments January release from an immigration detention center.

The former Afghan soldier, called Wasi by family and friends, sat in a dental chair and conversed in Pashto with his older brother Sami as Carrie Underwood’s “Cowboy Casanova” played in the background. It was a scene thousands of miles from the places he’d been the past two years.

After the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, fear of retribution from the Taliban for sharing information with American soldiers while he was an intelligence officer drove Wasi Safi to flee to Brazil. The goal? Reaching the U.S. and applying for asylum.

He eventually made it after crossing 10 countries, but the journey came at a high cost. A brutal beating by police officers in Panama severely damaged his teeth and jaw and left him with permanent hearing loss.

Wasi Safi didn’t appear nervous during his visit to the San José Clinic, a facility that serves low income and uninsured individuals. But dentist Michael Wisnoski still reassured him, telling him it was going to be an “easy day.” He got two fillings but more complicated dental work loomed ahead.

Easy days for Wasi Safi have been few. His mind races with worry about his health. There’s also the uncertainty of whether he’ll be granted asylum. And he feels powerless to help his parents and other siblings, who have been threatened back in Afghanistan.

“I am scared for my life. I don’t know about my future. I don’t know what this government, what the United States (will) do with me,” Wasi Safi said.

It’s fear and frustration felt by other Afghans in the U.S. as well as by immigration activists, attorneys and others, who ask that those who were evacuated from Afghanistan receive permanent legal status and those left behind be given a path to safety.

“I do think that our government needs to take responsibility and figure out how to fix it, because these are people who helped us,” said Debbie Berman, an attorney with the Chicago-based law firm Jenner & Block that’s representing Afghans still trying to flee their country.

More than 88,500 Afghans who worked with American soldiers as translators and in other capacities since 2001 have arrived in the U.S. on military planes since the chaotic withdrawal, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Most were admitted under a program called humanitarian parole that grants them some legal status, including the ability to work.

However, many others were left behind and some, like Wasi Safi, made their way to the U.S. on their own — seeking the fulfillment of a promise of protection the U.S. made to its Afghan allies. It’s a promise many feel has been broken.

Wasi Safi’s monthslong journey on foot and by boat last year took him through raging rivers and dense jungle to the U.S.-Mexico border, where he was arrested in September and sent to a Texas detention center. With the help of lawyers and lawmakers, he was freed and reunited with his brother, who was a translator for the U.S. military and has lived in Houston since 2015.

Wasi Safi’s attorneys didn’t return calls or emails seeking comment on his asylum case.

His arrest at the border and the expedited removal order that remains in place likely complicate his asylum case, said Alex Miller, with the American Immigration Council, an advocacy group.

“It just is an incredible uphill battle,” said Miller.

Wasi Safi and other Afghans seeking legal status in the U.S. are doing so within an already backlogged immigration system.

“They’re just being added to this pile that the immigration judges are” handling, said Aleksandar Cuic, director of the Immigration Clinic at the School of Law at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

The Afghan Adjustment Act, a proposed law to streamline their immigration process, has stalled in Congress. As of the end of April, only about 8,100 applications for asylum or special visas for Afghans employed by the U.S. government had been approved, according to Homeland Security.

Wasi Safi was set to plead his case for asylum before an immigration judge in July. But that’s been delayed to December. The postponement was a gut punch for the Safi brothers.

“Every time I’m having a piece of hope, they somehow take the hope away from me,” said Sami Safi, 30.

Wasi Safi’s unresolved immigration status has meant he’s not authorized to work. It’s also left him afraid to leave his Houston home.

“Home is like jail for me. I hope they give me my paper (legal documentation) and I start my life,” Wasi Safi said.

If home is a cage, the Al-Noor Society of Greater Houston, a mosque in the city’s diverse Gulfton neighborhood, has provided some outside solace.

In the midst of Ramadan on a Friday in April, the mosque’s main prayer hall was filled with about 200 men and boys, some wearing Houston Astros jerseys or carrying bags emblazoned with the Texas flag.

“That’s why we come to mosque … asking God almighty to guide us, in the path of success, in the path of comfort,” Sami Safi said.

Zahoor Gire, Al Noor’s executive director, said the mosque is a place not just for prayer but a resource for many of the newly arrived from Afghanistan and other countries.

Community groups like Al Noor are the ones that help provide long-term support — including job training and activities for children — once the initial federal help ends, Gire said.

Ericka Pertierra, a local businesswoman who’s helped several Afghan families resettle in Houston, has taken on Wasi Safi’s case. Using her fundraising skills, Pertierra gathered money for his lawyers and persuaded doctors and dentists she knows to donate their services.

“They deserve it. They served our country,” Pertierra said of the brothers.

She’s trying to raise more money through a GoFundMe campaign for Wasi Safi’s long-term medical needs.

On May 23, Wasi Safi turned 27 years old. But eating birthday cake was out of the question due to pain from recent gum surgery.

“He says, ‘I’ll celebrate my birthday when I’m feeling better,’” Sami Safi said.

___

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

United States News

Associated Press

Pursuit of Milwaukee carjacking suspects ends with police shooting 2 teens in stolen vehicle

MILWAUKEE (AP) — A police pursuit of carjacking suspects in Milwaukee ended Thursday with police firing into the vehicle and injuring two teens, one of whom was pregnant and lost her baby, Milwaukee police said. Officers tried to stop the stolen vehicle just before 2:30 p.m. on Interstate 43 north of Milwaukee. The pursuit ended […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

2 crop dusting airplanes collided in southern Idaho, killing 1 pilot and severely injuring the other

ARCO, Idaho (AP) — Two crop dusting airplanes collided near an airport in southern Idaho on Thursday and crashed to the ground, killing one of the pilots and leaving the other with life-threatening injuries, officials said. The crash was reported at about 12:30 p.m. in an area covered by sage and grass near the airport […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Seattle police officer fired for off-duty racist comments

SEATTLE (AP) — A Seattle police officer was fired for calling his Chinese American neighbor racist and sexist slurs while off duty in 2022, according to a news report. Officer Burton Hill was fired in May, The Seattle Times reported. The termination stemmed from an altercation with his neighbor, Zhen Jin, over the disposal of […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Appeals court panel refuses to delay Trump ally Steve Bannon’s 4-month contempt prison sentence

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal appeals court panel on Thursday rejected longtime Donald Trump ally Steve Bannon’s bid to stay out of prison while he fights his conviction for defying a subpoena from the House committee that investigated the U.S. Capitol attack. Bannon is supposed to report to prison by July 1 to begin serving […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

2 killed in helicopter crash in Washington state, authorities say

BLUESTEM, Wash. (AP) — Two men died in a helicopter crash in eastern Washington state, authorities said. Lincoln County Fire District 6 Chief Brandon Larmer told KREM-TV that the helicopter had two people aboard when it crashed Wednesday afternoon. The men who died were identified Thursday as 68-year-old Ryan Sandvig, of Spokane, and 63-year-old Mark […]

7 hours ago

Associated Press

Gold bars and Sen. Bob Menendez’s curiosity about their price takes central role at bribery trial

NEW YORK (AP) — Prosecutors showed jurors at Sen. Bob Menendez ’s trial on Thursday multiple instances when he researched the value of gold as he tried to help a New Jersey businessman who authorities say bribed him with gold and cash. The evidence about the Democrat’s online searches was prominently displayed to a New […]

7 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Beat the heat, ensure your AC unit is summer-ready

With temperatures starting to rise across the Valley, now is a great time to be sure your AC unit is ready to withstand the sweltering summer heat.

...

Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.

...

DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.

‘Home is like jail’: Afghan soldier who helped the US weathers injuries, uncertainty in asylum bid