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He spoke no English, had no lawyer. An Afghan man’s case offers a glimpse into US immigration court

The Afghan man speaks only Farsi, but he wasn’t worried about representing himself in U.S. immigration court. He believed the details of his asylum claim spoke for themselves.

Mohammad was a university professor, teaching human rights courses in Afghanistan before he fled for the United States. Mohammad is also Hazara, an ethnic minority long persecuted in his country, and he said he was receiving death threats under the Taliban, who reimposed their harsh interpretation of Sunni Islam after taking power in 2021.

He crossed the Texas border in April 2022, surrendered to Border Patrol agents and was detained. A year later, a hearing was held via video conference. His words were translated by a court interpreter in another location, and he said he struggled to express himself — including fear for his life since he was injured in a 2016 suicide bombing.

At the conclusion of the nearly three-hour hearing, the judge denied him asylum. Mohammad said he was later shocked to learn that he had waived his right to appeal the decision.

“I feel alone and that the law wasn’t applied,” said Mohammad, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition that only his first name be used, over fears for the safety of his wife and children, who are still in Afghanistan.

Mohammad’s case offers 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. Amid a major influx of migrants at the border with Mexico, the courts — with a backlog of 2 million cases -– may be the most overwhelmed and least understood link in the system.

AP reviewed a hearing transcript provided by Mona Iman, an attorney with Human Rights First now representing Mohammad. Iman also translated Mohammad’s comments to AP in a phone interview from Prairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, Texas.

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