Helping an Afghan Incarcerated in the United States Earn Asylum

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 a U.S. government-funded nonprofit organization in Afghanistan. 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 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 argued that Mohammad was subjected to unreasonably prolonged incarceration. He deserved to live freely in the United States and be reunited with his family while he sought asylum.

As Human Rights First acted on Mohammad’s case, we updated this blog with details of that effort.  Please follow this link for more on Mohammad’s story.

December 22, 2023

Mohammad’s journey has been long – he traveled from Afghanistan to South America, through the Darien Gap to the border, to ICE detention, and more – but it has come to a successful conclusion.

Our attorneys were successful in stopping the Department of Homeland Security from deporting Mohammad back to Afghanistan. We filed a Motion to Reopen Mohammad’s case and then filed a new asylum application. We made multiple parole requests to get Mohammad released. We filed for Temporary Protected Status for Mohammad, arguing that it is the U.S. government’s long-standing policy to release any individual who is prima facie eligible for TPS. We contacted government officials and advocated for Mohammad’s release for his sake and for his family — two small children and his wife, whose application through the Special Immigrant Visa program has long been approved. Our request to have his TPS application expedited was denied. 

With our partners at the law firm of Akin LLP, we prepared Mohammad for his December 13 Individual hearing before a new judge in Dallas Immigration Court. We gathered additional evidence, spoke with eyewitnesses, consulted with an expert, and filed all necessary filings.

Finally, on December 20, 2023, 602 days after he first arrived in the United States, Mohammad was granted asylum. The immigration judge found that Mohammad had suffered persecution due to his political opinions and ethnicity.

Mohammad was released from detention on December 22, 2023, and will soon reunite with his niece in Michigan. Human Rights First and Akin LLP will now work to reunite Mohammad with his wife and children and help him to pursue a dignified life in the relative safety of the United States.

December 12, 2023

Mohammad is scheduled for an Individual Hearing on December 13.  We are very concerned about the possibility of his facing more detention even though he has an incredibly strong case with multiple claims to asylum.  

Mohammad is an ethnic Hazara Shia Muslim who was an outspoken law professor and advocate on behalf of victims of Taliban terrorist attacks. His wife was employed by a U.S.-funded organization, and was granted COM approval for her Special Immigrant Visa.  Mohammad’s two brothers converted to Christianity, a crime punishable by death; Mohammad fears retribution by the Taliban due to their close family relationship and because they lived in the same building unit. In recent months, the Taliban have visited their home in Afghanistan multiple times. 

We continue to believe and will argue that Mohammad should have never been detained in the first place.

December 2, 2023

On December 1, USCIS denied Human Rights First’s request to expedite Mohammad’s application for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). At the time of our request, Mohammad had been in detention for over 550 days.  

We argued for expedited processing of his TPS application based on urgent humanitarian reasons  — he survived an ISIS-K bombing and an attempted gunpoint abduction by the Taliban — and the national interest of the United States. 

We anticipated that the filing of Mohammad’s TPS application would be sufficient for DHS to release him, as he clearly meets the prima facie eligibility requirement. It is a long-standing U.S. government policy that “once granted TPS, an individual cannot be detained by DHS based on their immigration status in the United States.” 

 Unfortunately, our parole requests have repeatedly been denied, even after the submission of proof of TPS filing and of Mohammad’s wife’s COM approval for her Special Immigrant Visa (SIV).

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



  • Mona Iman
  • Robyn Barnard
  • Shala Gafary

Published on December 22, 2023


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