An Afghan man who was granted a visa to move to the United States after risking his life working alongside American troops is marooned in a detention center in New Jersey, caught in an unprecedented five-month legal drama that appears to be connected to Trump administration immigration policies.
Abdul, who doesn’t want his last name used because he fears for the safety of his family back home, worked as the headwaiter for American troops at a base in Afghanistan. His boss, retired Army Sgt. Marion Leon Goins, ran mess halls for a private contractor and was impressed with Abdul's work ethic and willingness to help translate for him with other Afghan workers. They worked together for nearly two years.
"One night he came in and someone had jumped him, beat him up, threatened to kill his family, threatened to kill him if he continued to help the U.S. out," Goins said.
So Goins recommended Abdul for a Special Immigrant Visa reserved for Afghans and Iraqis who risked their lives to help American troops in the wars. Goins had sponsored visas for eight other Afghans who worked for him. All are now in the country, thriving — one is an engineer in Virginia; another teaches worker safety in Michigan and is expecting a child with his new American wife.
"They did such a wonderful job and made me look good. I just wanted to give them a better life and a better opportunity," said Goins, who keeps up with his Afghan friends via Facebook.
Abdul, 25, has not been as lucky. He was vetted by American officials for nearly two years before he was finally granted his visa, but when he arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport in March en route to Ohio, where he planned to resettle near Goins' home, he was detained by Customs and Border Enforcement officials for 28 hours, according to his attorneys. He was asked about his Muslim faith, refused food, and then given a piece of paper to sign that he didn't understand.
That paper was a form revoking his visa. He was at the departure gate headed back to Afghanistan when a federal appellate court granted an emergency injunction to keep him in the country. He was then sent to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Elizabeth, where he has remained for the past five months.
Although Afghanistan is not on the list of countries that President Donald Trump included in his proposed travel restrictions, at the time Abdul arrived that controversy was raging and the matter was in legal limbo. Several others with the same visa were also temporarily blocked from coming into the country at the time, but Abdul is believed to be the only one held in prolonged and indefinite detention.
"I feel he was a guinea pig," Goins said. "He came at the wrong time."
Abdul is seeking asylum, and a hearing Friday before an immigration judge could keep him in the country — or force his deportation, according to one of his attorneys, Farrin Anello of the American Civil Liberties Union in New Jersey. The ACLU has also filed a separate federal lawsuit over his detention.
"I want the world to know I’m not here to harm anyone," Abdul told the Bergen Record last week. "I want the world to know I am here for education, and I’m here to work." A return to Afghanistan could be deadly. Abdul told his lawyers that he was beaten with a metal cable by the Taliban after it was revealed he was working with Americans. Goins said that Abdul even had to leave his home and move closer to the base in Kabul where he worked in order to protect himself. A spokesman for Customs and Border Enforcement said he would not comment on ongoing litigation.