Nearly a year after former Afghan intelligence officer Abdul Wasi Safi was detained at the border between the U.S. and Mexico in Texas, the Justice Department has granted him asylum to live with his brother Sami-ullah Safi in Houston and waived his immigration hearing.

Wasi said he couldn’t believe the news at first.

“I was in shock like, I say, oh my god, is it real?” Wasi said in an interview with Military Times. “Is it really my paper? My asylum is really granted or what?”

The decision comes nearly 11 months since Wasi said he turned himself in to border patrol agents to declare asylum but was charged with entering the U.S. without the proper documentation.

Wasi, 27, had left Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrew from the country after 20 years of conflict. As a special operations soldier in the Afghan National Security Forces, Wasi was under direct threat of retaliation by the Taliban. The last U.S. troops departed Afghanistan on Aug. 30, 2021, after the Taliban captured Kabul, leaving as many as 150,000 Afghans like Wasi behind, including individuals who worked closely with U.S. military forces as interpreters and combat assistants.

The brothers refer to the vacuum of the American presence in their home country as “the collapse,” when the Taliban quickly took control over the government as the last planes departed from Kabul. In a harrowing journey across continents, Wasi made his way by air, taxi, and on foot to reunite with his older brother Sami, 30, in Houston. He was hopeful that the U.S. would welcome him with open arms, only to spend months in detention centers in Texas. He was released early this year after a swirl of press attention and major efforts by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas.

But his asylum hearing was shifted multiple times, from July, to a date in mid-December, then November. Wasi wasn’t expecting a decision today.

Now, he just wants to provide support for his family still in Afghanistan.

“I try to find some good job, for my family, and I hope I go to college,” Wasi said, after first tuning up his English. His brother, Sami, largely does the translating for him. The two have lived together since Wasi’s release from the detention center in Del Rio.

Allison P. Erickson’s piece about the Safis first appeared in The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. This story was produced in partnership with Military Veterans in Journalism. Please send tips to MVJ-Tips@militarytimes.com.

Allison Erickson is a journalist and U.S. Army Veteran. She covered military and veterans' affairs as the 2022 Military Veterans in Journalism fellow with The Texas Tribune and continues to cover the military community. She has written and reported on topics such as migration, politics, and health.

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