The U.S. Failure to Protect Samey is Personal

By Richard Weir

blog_Weir Headshot_300.jpgConfronted with the largest refugee crisis since World War II, the United States continues to fail those fleeing murderous authoritarian regimes and ruthless insurgencies. Worse, the men and women who served alongside U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom are fleeing unending persecution at home, have been forgotten. And in some cases, they are even locked up in remote U.S. immigration detention centers. As a veteran, I reject these moral failings.

Perhaps no one understands the depths of America’s failure better than Samey Honaryar. Samey, an Afghan who worked tirelessly for the U.S. military for three years as a translator in Afghanistan, has now spent nearly a year in U.S. immigration detention facilities after his application for asylum was, incredibly, denied.

But that was not Samey’s first experience with a dysfunctional American bureaucratic system. Before Samey fled Afghanistan to seek asylum in the United States, he applied for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV). The SIV program is set up especially for Afghans and Iraqis who served with U.S. forces. They often become primary targets for retaliation by armed groups and so do their families. Samey survived a kidnapping attempt and suffered constant, personal threats from the Taliban. However, his SIV application was still denied, so he fled Afghanistan in fear for his life.

When I read Samey’s story in the New York Times, I wish I could say I was surprised.

As a director of a local chapter of the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), I confront similar cases too often: desperate men and women who have risked their lives for others—for Americans—rejected for protection by the United States as a matter of expediency. They deserve assistance, but the process has locked them out. What will they do? We often do not have any good answers and we do not know what to say.

Many are forced to flee, risking their lives just to escape the violence brought on by their loyalty to the U.S. government. Out of desperation, one of my own clients fled, like Samey, to another country to find work after his SIV was denied. It is a temporary solution to a permanent problem. 

Samey’s faith in America’s commitment to humanitarian ideals led him to seek asylum in the United States. But he was rejected based on a judge’s flawed understanding of the realities of Afghanistan. He had no lawyer—no one to give him a voice, even after he spent three years giving a voice to U.S. troops.

The SIV process is broken. The asylum system is broken. The United States is failing in its commitment to resettle refugees from the most deadly, refugee-producing conflicts.

For veterans like myself, the failing is personal. Afghans and Iraqis like Samey served alongside me and other U.S. forces. And those fleeing violence, discarded by opaque processes and a climate of fear, are the ones we strove to shield from violence and suffering. Both are now unacceptably in jeopardy.  

Samey’s case isn’t over—he’s appealing the judge’s decision with the help of some pro bono lawyers. But you can help too. Sign on to this letter to the DOJ asking them to investigate his case.

America must do more. We must try more earnestly and commit ourselves more fully and truthfully to safeguarding the persecuted masses yearning to breathe free.  

Richard Weir is a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran who served as an infantryman in Iraq. He is a member of the Truman National Security Project Defense Council, a Co-Director of the International Refugee Assistance Project chapter at Berkeley Law, and law student at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.