Immigration

Family Of Slain Afghan U.S. Military Interpreter Headed To Houston After 10-Year Visa Delay

The Mohammed family case highlights the deadly cost of long visa wait times for Afghan and Iraqi war interpreters and others who have served alongside the U.S. military. Some 18,000 Afghan families have pending visa applications to come to the United States, as they live in life-threatening conditions.

US Army Sgt. Skyler Rosenberry of Pennsylvania, left, and an Afghan interpreter, center, from First Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division speak to an Afghan man during a foot patrol in West Now Ruzi village, district Panjwai, Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

After a 10-year wait, the family of an Afghan interpreter who was killed by the Taliban for his work with the United States military is one crucial step closer to resettling in Houston.

Earlier this week, U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services approved the family’s application for humanitarian parole, a method to quickly bring people into the United States during life-threatening emergencies.

For four months, military veterans in Houston have been working with lawmakers, attorneys and immigration officials to quickly get immigration approvals for the family of seven, including the late translator’s wife and six children, who are currently in hiding and face death threats from the Taliban.

The case of “Mohammed,” which is a pseudonym used to protect the interpreter’s family, has garnered national attention, highlighting the sometimes deadly cost of long visa wait times for Afghan and Iraqi war translators and others who have worked alongside the U.S. military during armed conflict.

Mohammed and his family were eligible for Special Immigrant Visas under a program granting visas to Afghan and Iraqi nationals who were working with the U.S. military or diplomats. He had served about 12 years in combat as an interpreter, said Cress Clippard, a volunteer with the veteran organization Combined Arms.

Mohammed had waited 10 years for visa approval, said Clippard. Then his application was erroneously denied.

“Not only had he served honorably for an extremely long period of time, he continued to serve while he was applying, he was denied erroneously and he continued to serve then,” said Clippard, who has led advocacy efforts in Houston on behalf of Mohammed’s family.

Eventually, Mohammed’s visa received initial approval in December 2020 after legal intervention by the International Refugee Assistance Project.

But while Mohammed and his family were waiting for next steps, the Taliban attacked.

First the Taliban killed three of Mohammed’s extended family members at a wedding, according to Clippard, who has spoken directly with the family and their lawyers.

Then, in January 2021, the Taliban stopped Mohammed and one of his sons at a checkpoint.

They shot and killed Mohammed, yelling “where are the Americans to rescue you now?”, said Clippard, paraphrasing the first-hand account from Mohammed’s son, who was there when his father was gunned down.

Mohammed’s death invalidated the family’s visa pathway, which prompted the International Refugee Assistance Project to intervene and reach out to Clippard, who was immediately compelled to help the surviving family members.

“Their father and husband served for 10 years, or 12 years, in a lot harder things than I ever did as a Marine and this family should be treated just like any Gold Star family, the family of a deceased military member,” Clippard said.

Now that humanitarian parole has been granted, with assistance from U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, D-Houston, and Republican Sen. John Cornyn, the family is expected to resettle in Houston within the next couple of months.

Army veteran and Plant It Forward president Liz Vallette is sponsoring the Mohammed family, which means she’s required to take financial responsibility for the family so they don’t require government assistance.

She called her decision a “no-brainer”.

“We made a promise to Afghans who worked with us and we need to deliver on that promise,” Vallette said.

Combined Arms has also set up a website for donations that will be used to make initial rent payments for the family, and help with some medical and food expenses. Because the family now isn’t coming in with Special Immigrant Visas, they aren’t eligible for government support and still face an uncertain legal future.

The family’s story brings to light the plight of some 18,000 families — the estimated number of Afghans with pending Special Immigrant Visas for their families as of June 2020. For each year they wait, due to the time-consuming and confusing visa application process, they’re more at risk of an attack by the Taliban.

And now another clock is ticking.

The approaching September 2021 deadline to withdraw troops from Afghanistan has renewed calls to quickly grant visas to the Afghans who served alongside U.S. armed forces, risking their lives and the lives of their families.

Earlier this week, Colorado Rep. Jason Crow shared Mohammed’s story during a House Armed Services Committee meeting to emphasize the U.S. obligation to evacuate these Afghans as part of U.S. withdrawal.

On Wednesday, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service organization wrote a letter to President Biden urging him to “evacuate Afghan wartime allies who have already applied for the Special Immigrant Visa program and their families to American territory.”

Vallette said protecting these allies is not just a moral obligation — it’s a way to encourage civilian cooperation for whatever armed conflict comes next.

“It also is important for future conflicts for us to be able to show our allies that we do follow through on protecting them if they do help us,” Vallette said. “This will have long-term reverberations if we don’t follow through on it.”

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