After six months in U.S. immigration custody and initially being denied protection from deportation, Yemeni national Emad Al-Azabi will be released from custody next week.
It’s a major victory for Al-Azabi, whom HuffPost featured along with fellow Yemeni national Osamah Mahyoub in an investigation last month.
Both men had escaped Yemen due to threats of violence, fleeing through eight Latin American countries and encountering armed rebels, thick jungles and sinister smugglers on their way to the U.S. They believed they would be killed if they were deported back to Yemen. But U.S. officials initially determined they did not have a “credible fear” — reason to fear persecution or torture in their home countries — which is required for asylum in the U.S.
After HuffPost published its story, however, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services granted both men new interviews. A few days later, USCIS reversed its decision and noted that both men did indeed have a credible fear, according to a letter reviewed by HuffPost.
Both men were then required to undergo a bond hearing, in which a detainee can become eligible for release if they prove they are not a flight risk, do not pose harm to the community, and will attend all court hearings as their cases are processed.
On Thursday, immigration officials granted Al-Azabi’s bond. Mahyoub is awaiting his bond hearing. Both men are still in immigration proceedings, but they have a chance to keep their protections and live freely in the U.S.
The decisions by USCIS are potentially life-changing for both men, and demonstrate the unpredictability of the U.S. immigration system. Immigration officers’ decisions can allow people to remain in America or effectively doom them for deportation, and public attention may lead to the reversal of private decisions.
USCIS did not explain to HuffPost what prompted the change, stating it does not comment on individual cases.
But Mahyoub and Al-Azabi said they were both asked extensive questions about HuffPost’s report during their new credible fear interviews. They and their lawyers believe public attention may have played a role in USCIS’s reversal of its initial decisions.
“Once this article was published, the changes immediately started,” said Assma Ali, the Mississippi-based immigration lawyer who represents Mahyoub. “They heard, they read, and they acted.”
Without the national coverage, Ali said, “this would have not been possible.”
Ali said he almost did not believe the decision until he received the paperwork in his hands at the detention center on May 23 ― one day before the Eid, the Islamic holiday. He said it was the best Eid gift he could have ever received.
In New York, Al-Azabi’s cousin Abdullah broke into tears when he learned that his cousin was coming home.
“I told myself I finally finished my job,” Abdullah told HuffPost. “I can sleep without having to think about him being in that ugly place anymore.”