LOS ANGELES (Border Report) — Nabeel Younis, 28, left Pakistan a little more than five years ago determined to get to the United States where he could practice Christianity without fear of persecution.
He and a group of friends, fellow Catholics, left their home country for Panama to attend a young peoples’ conference with Pope Francis.
They never went back and stayed for two years in Northern Panama, where Younis learned to read and write Spanish.
Upon saving enough money, they trekked north through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala before crossing into the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.
After surviving a 16-hour ordeal, packed into a trailer, standing the entire route with no water, food or bathroom breaks, they arrived in Mexico City.
Younis called it “the worst experience of his life.”
They eventually traveled to the border city of Tijuana where they met a smuggler who promised to get them across the border.
As they were about to hop over the border barrier, members of Mexico’s National Guard approached them and robbed and beat them, Younis told Border Report, which has chronicled his journey to the U.S. since his friends believed he had gone missing in Mexico in late 2021.
Bruised, battered and almost pennyless, they returned to their motel.
But the next morning, Mexican customs officers arrived and picked them up, jailing them in a migrant detention facility in Tijuana.
After more than a month, Younis and his friends were released to a migrant shelter where they plotted their next move.
Money was wired in from friends, and they set off for Mexicali, about 120 miles to the east, where they finally achieved their goal of crossing into the U.S.
The group was detained by Border Patrol agents who eventually took Younis to the Imperial Regional Detention Facility in Calexico, California.
His friends were sent elsewhere.
Another month in custody passed, but Younis managed to secure an initial interview with officers who determined he had a valid case to begin asylum proceedings.
A friend he met back home in Pakistan, an American named Fitzgerald Kelly, agreed to become his sponsor in California and opened his home in San Luis Obispo, about a five-hour drive north of the border.
Younis began his court case and managed to secure the services of the Immigration Legal Defense Center’s office in Santa Maria, California, which agreed to represent him pro bono.
Attorney Maria Salguero guided Younis’ case through the courts.
Almost a year and a half since hopping the border barrier, he found himself in Judge Carlos Maury’s courtroom at the Federal Courthouse in Van Nuys, California.
The judge would make the final determination and decide Younis’ asylum case.
He quickly sided with Younis granting him asylum.
“What happened here today was unbelievable,” said Younis. “We went to the courthouse and the judge took less than 15 minutes to give me the positive decision. … I heard and read so many stories and didn’t know it could happen that fast.”
Younis says he considers himself lucky for the quick decision. His friends, who ended up in Denver and Pennsylvania, are still waiting for their asylum outcome.
“I’ve heard and read about a lot of people who have spent so many years here and nothing has happened in their case but I would say God’s providence made it happen so fast for me.”
Even Younis’ attorney was surprised at the speed it took to settle her client’s case.
“The judge granted Nabeel asylum based on his record,” said Salguero. “There was no need for Nabeel to be cross-examined, there was no need to clarify any legal or factual issues, the judge found Nabeel credible.”
A year from now, Nabeel will be able to apply for legal residency, and at some point in the future, try to gain U.S. citizenship.
“He now has that security where he doesn’t have to fear deportation,” Salguero said.
After the hearing, Younis celebrated by treating Salguero, Kelly and friend Jan Meslin to lunch before heading back to San Luis Obispo.
Younis said he will soon begin the summer session at Cuesta Community College to continue his formal education.
Earlier this month, he completed his first semester securing 18 units and earning four As and one B-plus.