Texas

Afghan soldier arrested at border seeking asylum gets new lawyers and meets with FBI

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New team of lawyers for An Afghan soldier in custody at a Texas detention center hopes that renewed cooperation with the US government will lead to his eventual release and asylum.

Abdul Wasi Safi, known as Wasi, worked as an intelligence officer in the Afghan National Security Forces alongside US forces. Fearing for his life after the US pulled out of Afghanistan in 2021, Wasi fled the Taliban, crossing three continents and eventually making it to the US-Mexico border. Instead of being reunited with his brother, a naturalized US citizen, Vasya was arrested at the border and has been in custody since September 30.

The washes were expected to hold a hearing this week. However, a new team of lawyers asked for an extension until mid-February.

“We have five days in this and we are going to work with this process to try to get him back on track and help him get asylum in the United States,” said Zachary Fertitta, one of Vasya’s new lawyers. “This process is not fast, and we have to participate in it, and this is what we are doing.”

Meanwhile, Vasya’s physical and mental health appears to be deteriorating.

He sustained multiple injuries while traveling the world to the Texas-Mexico border, including being beaten by an officer as he exited the treacherous Darien Gorge, a section of South American jungle known to claim the lives of migrants.

His ears are bleeding. His gums are almost completely receded. According to him, his jaw constantly hurts. Vasya said that he was given one pill for all diseases: ibuprofen.

“Why do they treat me like that?” Vasya asked during a recent interview. Vasya always hoped that military service would provide him with an easy path to obtaining asylum in the United States.

Fertitta, a criminal defense attorney from Houston, joins two other attorneys: criminal defense attorney Erica Benitez Guise of San Antonio and immigration attorney Jennifer Cervantes of Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Vasya’s legal team navigates a web of criminal and immigration law with the ultimate goal of getting criminal charges of illegal entry to the US dropped and putting Vasya on the path to asylum.

Both Fertitta and Giese served as prosecutors. Giza, in particular, worked in Del Rio with the US Attorney’s Office, the same system through which Vasya was charged with a federal offense for failing to submit the correct paperwork to stay in the US.

Cervantes said the goal is for those charges to be dropped before he starts an immigration asylum hearing.

“From my point of view, I am waiting for the criminal side to put an end to this relatively insignificant case so that Vasi can begin the asylum process,” Cervantes said. “He won’t be able to tell his story about the work he’s done for the US until after a credible interview and eventually an asylum hearing.”

Most migrants charged with minor offenses, such as Vasi, would likely serve no more than three months, Cervantes said, if they were sentenced to guilty plea at all. If the charges against Vasya are not dropped by the next plea agreement date, Vasya will continue to serve after that, trying not to start life in a new country with a criminal record.

According to Vasya’s team, the Federal Bureau of Investigation interrogated Vasya on January 3 to verify his identity and military service records.

Volunteer from Houston started GoFundMe an account in the name of Vasya’s brother Sami-ullah Safi to cover the probable medical expenses of a group of periodontists, dentists, audiologists and mental health professionals who are on standby to assess Vasya’s condition after his release.

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