CALEXICO, Calif. (Border Report) — It took Nabeel Younis three years to get to the U.S. from his home country of Pakistan, but it was the last three months of the trek that nearly broke his body and spirit.
“This journey has been extremely difficult, but I guess that was worth it since I made it here in the U.S. and I’m free, I’m totally free, I’m so happy about that,” Younis told Border Report on Friday, less than a day after his release from the custody U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
Younis originally left Pakistan for Panama in 2019 for an event with Pope Francis.
As a Catholic, the 27-year-old said he faced a lot of discrimination and persecution in Pakistan, a Muslim country, and he vowed to never go back.
“No Christian wants to live in Pakistan,” he said
Last November, Younis left Panama with a group of friends bound for the U.S.
They walked through Central America until reaching the Mexico-Guatemala border.
“We were loaded onto a trailer for the trip from Chiapas to Mexico City, there were more than 300 people standing inside the trailer,” he said. “We stood for 16 hours without bathroom breaks. You couldn’t even breathe in there it was horrible.”
Then they took a bus to Hermosillo in northern Mexico and finally Mexicali just south of the border, about 120 miles east of Tijuana.
“We were going to cross the border, but the federales stopped us,” he said. “They stole our documents, cellphones and money, then they beat us. The next day at our hotel, the immigration people showed up and arrested us.”
Younis and his friends spent a month in a Tijuana immigration detention center, but after being released to a shelter, they decided to try their luck again.
This time, they made it over the border near Calexico, Calif., where they were apprehended by Border Patrol agents.
A few days later, only Younis was taken to the Imperial Regional Detention Facility, a private detention hold run by ICE. That’s where he was able to ask for asylum.
And after two weeks in quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns, Younis got his initial interview and his case was ruled valid due to religious persecution.
Six weeks later, while having lunch, he was told he had 10 minutes to gather his belongings.
Younis was given his paperwork, escorted out of the detention facility and driven to downtown Calexico, where he spoke with Border Report.
“I can’t even believe I’m in the U.S. because last night I couldn’t sleep because I was thinking about my American dream that I’m supposed to be living, that I’m going to be live so I’m so happy to be here,” said Younis, who spent the night at Calexico motel.
Younis told Border Report he now plans to finish his college degree and then go into the medical field, maybe study to be a doctor.
“This is the beginning of my new life.”
For now, Younis will travel to California’s central coast where he will live with a sponsor and where he will attend a scheduled court appearance on March 23.
Until then, he will have to wear an ankle tracking device.
“It kind of hurts when I walk, but I’ll have to get used to it,” Younis said.
As for his friends, Younis says he has not heard from them and is not sure where they might be.