ICE Pushes to Deport Asylum-Seeking Afghan Incarcerated in the United States

Mohammad[1] is an Afghan citizen of the Hazara ethnic minority and Shi’a religion, who fled Afghanistan after repeated threats to his life following the Taliban’s consolidation of power in 2021. He escaped by traveling through the treacherous and only available route to the United States to seek asylum.

In Afghanistan, Mohammad was a professor with a history of advocacy for women’s rights and for victims of the Taliban and other extremist groups. Mohammad’s wife, who worked for the former Afghan government, had ties to the U.S. government. Due to her work, she has an initially approved Special Immigrant Visa application that also gives Mohammad a path to permanent residence in the United States.

Despite this, Mohammad was criminally prosecuted for entering the United States to seek asylum.  He spent 7 months in prison before he was transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, where he could only then begin to pursue his asylum claim. ICE has repeatedly denied Mohammad’s release into the community despite his having permanent resident family in the United States ready to sponsor and receive him.

Mohammad was forced to undergo his asylum case without an attorney while detained in immigration jail. After being held for one year, an immigration judge denied Mohammad’s asylum claims despite extensive evidence that he survived multiple attacks on his life by the Taliban and ISIS-K, and that the Taliban continue to search for him. The judge also dismissed irrefutable evidence of the significant risk he would face due to his ethnic and religious minority status if forced to return to Afghanistan, and the escalating violence imposed by the Taliban.

Mohammad’s story was detailed by the Associated Press.  The article provided “a rare look inside an opaque and overwhelmed immigration court system where hearings are often closed, transcripts are not available to the public and judges are under pressure to move quickly with ample discretion” and highlights Human Rights First’s efforts to find justice for Mohammad.

The United States should not deport Afghan allies—especially not those like Mohammad, who have courageously fought for human rights in Afghanistan, are members of ethnic and religious minority groups, and have family eligible for SIV status—all factors that would lead to certain risk of persecution and torture at the hands of the Taliban if forced to return.

We believe Mohammad has been unreasonably subjected to prolonged incarceration, and that he deserves to live freely in the United States and be reunited with his family while he seeks asylum. Please join us in urging the Biden administration and ICE to release Mohammad from prolonged incarceration immediately.

As Human Rights First continues to act on Mohammad’s case, we will update this blog with details of that effort.  Please follow this link to urge the Biden administration and ICE to release Mohammad from custody and ensure him a full and fair trial.

September 25, 2023

Following the immigration judge’s erroneous denial of Mohammad’s asylum claim, he was connected with a pro bono attorney at Human Rights First to timely appeal that decision. Although ICE argued that Mohammad waived his right to appeal during the final immigration court hearing, experts, including former immigration judges, have reviewed the court transcript and agree with Human Rights First that Mohammad did not receive a fair hearing or knowingly waive his right to appeal. Unfortunately, the Board of Immigration Appeals summarily dismissed Mohammad’s appeal due to that purported waiver.

Human Rights First then filed a motion to reopen his removal proceedings directly with the Immigration Court. With the assistance of Akin Gump LLP, Mohammad also filed a petition for review of the BIA’s decision.[2]

On September 21, Mohammad’s motion to reopen before the immigration court was granted, despite the government’s continued opposition, winning him the opportunity to present his evidence for asylum again but this time with the assistance of an attorney and a new judge. That same day, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that the Secretary has redesignated Afghanistan for Temporary Protected Status, which will provide an additional path to temporary protection from deportation for Mohammad. Human Rights First will continue to defend Mohammad’s case until he secures protection for himself and his family.

[1] full name withheld due to security concerns for his family

[2] this petition will be voluntarily dismissed as Mohammad’s motion to reopen removal proceedings was separately granted by an immigration judge


Published on September 27, 2023


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