U.S Marine veteran Joseph Dietzel writes in Military Times that he had no idea his interpreter Mustafa Aahangaran would become one of his closest friends after being deployed to Afghanistan back in 2010. Dietzel writes that before his deployment, he’d never even met anyone from Afghanistan before.
He said the two soon became “practically inseparable,” sharing meals and stories throughout a dangerous mission. Aahangaran would oftentimes make initial contact with a village, wearing only a bulletproof vest.
They separated only when Dietzel suffered a debilitating injury that resulted in him having to return home to the U.S. They reunited in 2016, when Aahangaran and his family finally received visa approval. Dietzel writes that other allies deserve their relief, too, and that despite the historic evacuations last year, many still remain in danger today.
“When the country fell to the Taliban in 2021, only a small fraction of interpreters made it out of the country,” Dietzel writes in Military Times. “There’s much more we could be doing to help families like Mustafa’s. The ones who already are here in the U.S. need resettlement support and our refugee services need additional funding. The Biden administration could certainly establish a special program to expedite the visa process for anyone who’s able to cross a border into Pakistan or Iran.”
The Biden administration this past June announced it was easing restrictions that unfairly blocked Afghan allies from immigration relief. Under U.S. law, Afghan allies can be flagged and barred from a chance at a visa or asylum for even just having to pay their electric bill to the Taliban, The Los Angeles Times reported.
But Senate Democrats around that same time also noted the stark inconsistencies when it comes to the treatment of Ukrainian and Afghan refugees who are seeking safety in the United States, with Afghans facing a much higher burden of paperwork.
Dietzel writes that when he wrote to support Aahangaran’s visa application in 2015, he “was shocked at how challenging the process was: the stacks of paperwork he had to file, the background checks, the seemingly-endless delays. I received word that his uncle, also an interpreter for the U.S. military, would be arriving in America with his own family ahead of Mustafa’s. I offered to host them. It was the least I could do.”
Aahangaran and his family followed in 2016, and lived in Dietzel’s basement for some time before settling in Buffalo, New York. ”Mustafa and his family are thriving in America,” Dietzel continued. “He currently works for the Department of Labor, helping New Yorkers receive crucial unemployment benefits during the pandemic. His wife makes hospital gowns at a nearby sewing factory, and his daughters attend the local schools.”
“These people are beyond deserving to resettle in the U.S,” Dietzel says. “They’ve [sacrificed] more for this country than most people I know.” He notes that as many as 10,000 interpreters continue to remain at risk in Afghanistan.
Thousands of Afghan allies and families already here also remain at risk if they don’t win relief beyond the humanitarian parole process that’s allowing them to live in the U.S. on a temporary basis. For most, this is about a two-year period. While most Americans support the Afghan Adjustment Act bill creating a pathway to legalization for our allies, it has not advanced in Congress.
The international initiative More in Common said that while most Americans are unfamiliar with the bill, nearly 60% of those polled expressed support “after reading a neutral description” of the legislation. More in Common said support jumped to 76% when voters were informed that prominent veterans groups endorse the legislation.
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