In Houston, Banding Together to Support our Newest Neighbor



by Cress Clippard

On Friday night, I was wrapping up at work when I got an email about Mohasif Motawakil.

Motawakil is an Afghan who served as a translator for the U.S. military. Thanks to a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV), he had just landed at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport with his wife and their five children when they were promptly detained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and denied access to their lawyers. The family was told that that they would be deported to Kabul because one of them had wrongly opened a sealed envelope containing their medical records.

For our Afghan wartime allies, the SIV program is a lifeline. It’s protected thousands from the Taliban, ISIS, and other militant groups, which make a special point of attacking those who worked with the United States. In the Marine Corps, I had the opportunity to serve alongside several courageous translators in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, one of my former interpreters lives in Houston, and we’ve had the chance to connect with the larger SIV community through No One Left Behind and Veterans for American Ideals.

Touchdown in America should a dream come true. So I felt deeply for this family—the 48-year-old husband and father, his wife, and five children aged 19, 17, 12, 10 and 6—and I knew I had to be there to support them. My wife and I drove to airport and made our way to the international concourse. We met up with Kristin Roshelli, another Houston VFAI leader and former captain in the Air Force Nursing Corps. An attorney herself, she represents pro bono a former Afghan interpreter and his family in their SIV applications. We were there to press CBP to allow Mr. Motowakil access to his counsel.

At the international arrivals arena, we joined Mr. Motowakil’s lawyers from theRefugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, local activists, resettled SIV recipients, and faith leaders. Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green were also standing by to assist. As we waited and shared updates, I realized this effort reflected the true spirit of Houston: banding together for our newest neighbor.

At around 9 o’clock, CPB released the family members, who were taken to an apartment for the evening. Meanwhile, Motowakil remained detained, and we learned he would spend the evening in a detention center. As of Monday morning, he remains detained.   

Our Afghan and Iraqi partners stood shoulder to shoulder with us during difficult times. Now, we are proud to stand by them, and we will continue to support Motowakil until he is free to begin his new life. 

Cress Clippard is the Houston chapter leader for No One Left Behind and a Program Manager for the Travis Manion Foundation. He is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and lives in Houston with his wife.