By Haley Britzky
A coalition of US veterans groups is calling on President Joe Biden to intervene in the case of an Afghan national who fought alongside US forces and is now facing deportation after being detained at the US-Mexico border.
Abdul Wasi Safi, called Wasi, was apprehended by US Border Patrol in September after crossing the US-Mexico border with a group of migrants. In a letter to Biden on Wednesday the groups said that as an Afgan Special Forces soldier, Safi “served faithfully alongside US Special Operations Forces” in Afghanistan, and “continued to support the Northern resistance against the Taliban” as the US and its allies withdrew forces in August 2021.
Unable to get on a flight out of the country before the US completed its withdrawal, Safi was immediately in danger of persecution by the Taliban, and “was forced to flee for his life,” traveling “from safe house to safe house” until he arrived in Pakistan, the letter said.
According to the letter and representatives from the organizations advocating for him, his arrival in Pakistan was just the first step in a journey to the US.
Safi “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 threats on his life, and expecting a hero’s welcome from his American allies,” the letter said.
But what he found was the opposite. Paperwork detailing his case and provided by Safi’s brother to CNN says that a Border Patrol agent “encountered” Safi on September 30 near Eagle Pass, Texas. He was wearing “dirty and wet clothes,” the document says, and because he told the agent he did not have proper immigration paperwork he was arrested and transported to a local Border Patrol station for processing. The document noted that Safi told the agent he feared returning to his home country, and that a record check found no immigration history or criminal record. His story was first reported by the Texas Tribune.
Now his brother, Sami Safi, and other advocates fear the worst: that Wasi Safi could soon be deported back to the very country he was trying to escape.
“This individual … literally bled alongside US coalition forces in order to protect them and fight the Taliban,” said Daniel Elkins, founder of the Special Operations Association of America, which signed onto Wednesday’s letter. “So, him being returned to Afghanistan — he not only would be killed, but he most likely would be tortured and made an example of, which is why it’s unconscionable for us to think that he could potentially be deported.”
Elkins said that Wasi Safi served with top units in the US special operations community, putting him at extreme risk because of the damage those units did to the Taliban. Sami Safi told CNN that while his brother was still in Afghanistan during the withdrawal, he received “multiple voicemails” saying his fellow service members had been captured and killed by the Taliban.
Wasi Safi was “extremely disappointed” that a “country that says ‘we will never leave our allies behind’ left [him] behind to the enemy [he] was fighting,” Sami Safi said.
Sami Safi, who became a US citizen in July 2021, expressed frustration and sorrow over his brother’s fate. He served as an interpreter himself with US forces for several years because he “wanted to be part of the operation against the Taliban,” he said.
“I knew that if they came into power, they [would] bring disaster to Afghanistan,” Sami Safi said.
The conversation surrounding assistance for those who served next to US forces in Afghanistan, like Sami and Wasi Safi, has heated up in recent weeks as lawmakers have debated passing the Afghan Adjustment Act. The bill would provide a pathway to lawful permanent residency for Afghans who were evacuated to the US in August 2021, whose temporary humanitarian parole status is expected to expire next year. While advocates have relentlessly pushed for the legislation to be included in this year’s omnibus spending bill, it ultimately was not included.
There is, however, legislation in the spending bill to expand the Special Immigrant Visa program for Afghans who worked alongside the US during the war and are seeking to come to America.
“There’s no way the United States can continue to do what we do globally without our partner nation forces and without the trust required for operations to continue,” said Ben Owen, the CEO of Flanders Fields, a non-profit that seeks to support veterans struggling with addiction. “And right now, what we’re doing and what we’re all seeing, globally, is that the United States is kind of losing its moral compass.”
It’s unclear what comes next in Wasi Safi’s case; the groups implored Biden in their letter to grant him parolee status “as he awaits a hearing on his justifiable asylum claim.” Sami Safi said he believes “any outcome could be possible,” though Owen said it doesn’t seem plausible that Wasi Safi could actually be sent back to Afghanistan, where “a certain death sentence” would be waiting for him. Elkins said it’s the US’ duty to “stand shoulder to shoulder” with Afghan partners who served alongside American troops.
“The Afghan Special Forces faithfully served America,” the letter sent on Wednesday says, “and not one of them should have to endure a path like this to reach safety.”
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