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HOUSTON — U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee is demanding the release of a former Afghan soldier seeking asylum in the U.S. who is being held at a Texas detention center after he attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border to reunite with his brother.
And to ensure Abdul Wasi Safi begins his life in the U.S. without a criminal record, Jackson Lee, a Houston Democrat, has sent a letter to the White House asking the Biden administration to pardon the Afghan veteran for any crimes related to his crossing the border seeking asylum.
“This is a mistake that needs to be corrected immediately,” she said at a news conference Friday.
Wasi, as he is known, worked as an intelligence officer in the Afghan National Security Forces alongside U.S. troops. He fled Afghanistan in 2021 as the Taliban began targeting citizens who had previously helped the U.S. during the decadeslong war. Wasi crossed three continents to make it to the Texas border, where he hoped to meet his brother, who is now a naturalized U.S. citizen. Instead, he was arrested and has been in custody since Sept. 30.
“I’m calling on Biden’s administration to release my brother,” said Sami-ullah Safi, Wasi’s brother. “He believed in this mission of this country in Afghanistan. That’s why he fought alongside the United States Special Forces … to eliminate terrorism.”
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In a letter to President Joe Biden, the congresswoman requested that he issue Wasi a pardon, stating an owed debt to our allies ought to be honored by the country.
“When their service exposes them to credible threats, we must redouble our effort to keep our word because doing so also protects our troops stationed around the world today and into the future,” the letter reads.
Jackson Lee, a co-chair of the House’s Afghanistan caucus, is the highest-profile official to demand Wasi’s release. Previously, several military and immigrant rights groups called on the White House to intervene in Wasi’s case.
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Jackson Lee said Friday she believed the White House had not received those messages. Jackson Lee stood at a podium in the Mickey Leland Federal Building flanked by supporters of the Safi brothers, including local Afghan community members in Houston, military veterans and new members of Wasi’s legal team.
Wasi, who is facing criminal charges for attempting to cross the border without proper paperwork, was expected to have a plea hearing earlier this week. However, a new legal team asked for an extension. Wasi has also begun to cooperate with the federal government. He was interviewed by the FBI earlier this month.
The congresswoman said Wasi must be granted asylum without a criminal record.
“I characterize this as a logistical error and nightmare for Mr. Safi,” she said. Jackson Lee specifically underlined the criminal misdemeanor charges as the major cause for Wasi’s asylum case delays.
A new court date has been set for mid-February.
“I’m the last person that wants to jeopardize the national security of this nation, or to jeopardize any security for the American people, but I think it is important to try to be fair across the board,” Jackson Lee said.
A Houston-area volunteer started a GoFundMe account in the name of Wasi’s brother, Sami, to cover likely medical expenses from a team of periodontists, dentists, audiologists and mental health professionals on standby to assess Wasi after his release.