TIJUANA (Border Report) — Nabeel Younis and a group of friends left Panama for the U.S.-Mexico border in November.

A few weeks later, the Pakistani national texted friends that he was about to go over the border barrier into Calexico, California.

But that was the last anyone heard from them, and friends feared the worst.

Nabeel Younis and friend Donna O’Brien in Panama. (Courtesy: Donna O’Brien)

Last week, Younis managed to text a friend in California and let him know that he was being held at a detention center in Tijuana.

“Nabeel’s cellphone had been confiscated,” said Fitzgerald Kelly, Younis’ friend. “He is relying on other people in prison to get information out to me in a text and stuff like that.”

Kelly said Younis was detained by Mexico’s National Guard as he tried to cross the border.

A spokesperson with Mexico’s National Institute of Migration confirmed Younis is presently at its Tijuana detention center because he could not prove he was a Pakistani national, and that his identity has yet to be confirmed by the Pakistani government in Mexico.

Younis is also accused of not having legal documents allowing him to be in Mexico.

His friends, both in the U.S. and Panama, have been desperately trying to free him without any success.

“He’s been there since December 8, everyone else is out in two to three days, my concern is he is lost in the system,” Kelly said, adding that Younis is trying to stay positive after almost a month in captivity.

“He’s been using a Bangladeshi phone for a while. I don’t know whether that’s gotten confiscated,” Kelly said. “I know he has mentioned Somalis, Indians, so it’s quite an international group there who are in prison.”

Kelly stated Younis has been given the option of going back to Mexico City or remaining in Tijuana, where he would have to seek asylum in Mexico.

But according to Kelly, the 27-year-old Younis is adamant about going to the U.S. to seek a new life.

“This is a real person wanting to do exactly what we’ve been able to do,” Kelly said

A detention center spokesperson said Younis’ case is being reviewed and he could be released within a few days, especially if the Pakistani government can confirm his nationality.

Younis first arrived in Panama in 2019 when he traveled to Central America to be part of Pope Francis’ World Youth Day festivities.

He remained in that country for two years and learned Spanish and made friends.

“In Pakistan, he was beaten by a gang, and when he told police, they looked at his documents and saw that he was Catholic. They said they wouldn’t do anything, that was the last straw and he decided to come to the United States via Panama.”