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Among the Lucky Ones

An ex-translator for the U.S. military in Afghanistan got a special visa and safely resettled in the East Bay. But for other Afghan translators, there now appears to be no way out.



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But despite the horrors of war, Hassan kept on. As each year passed, his responsibilities increased and so too did his support for the U.S. military — even as anti-Americanism was rampant in his country. He eventually transitioned to the U.S. State Department where he served as a political assistant working to coordinate elections and secure education for women.

But back in his village, the Taliban still patrolled, often looking for American allies to capture. Plus, word spread fast in his small community, so it was difficult for his family to trust neighbors. Hassan minimized his visits to avoid jeopardizing not only his own life but his family’s. Then in 2013, he left the military — and Afghanistan — after finally receiving an SIV.

He remembers being excited, but also too tired to process everything. After living in a war zone for his entire life and serving with the military for eight years, Hassan was ready for new beginnings.

Like Shinwani, Hassan understands that he is unable to return to Afghanistan to collect the pieces of his heart that he left behind, so he focuses his work on helping Afghan translators complete the visa application process and assisting other immigrants with acclimating to life in the western world. These days, he works at La Familia in Hayward, and most of his resettlement cases involve recently arrived SIVs. He helps them with finding jobs and shows them how to navigate through the community.

But he is still oftentimes struck with the painful realization that for the foreseeable future, no SIV recipients will be allowed into the country. And he said that while Duadzai’s story is “sad and disturbing,” it is not an isolated event: “I am trying to help a lady that has been [threatened] so many times, but unfortunately, the former Ghazni PRT team is not helping her with a copy of her contract,” he explained. “She is telling me that she has received many letters at her door threatening the family.”

Hassan is adamant that the carelessness of the U.S. government in dealing with SIV applications has and will continue to cost wartime allies their lives. But the lack of funding for the SIV program will also have “a very negative impact on people who have been helping and defending U.S. policy interests in Afghanistan,” Hassan said. “Now, they might lose interest to work for the U.S. in the future because there is no guarantee for safety.”

And with over 10,000 troops remaining in Afghanistan, U.S. military men and women need to rely on assistance from Afghans to quell the presence of terrorism. It’s a two-way street, Shinwani once explained: The American military needs to rely on the language skills and on the cultural expertise of locals in order to complete missions safely and successfully. And in return, Americans need to fulfill their promise to their wartime allies of guaranteeing them the safety they deserve through the SIV program.

“Even if they are saying for next year this program will be finished, we will not stop fighting,” Shinwani said sternly. “We will not let it happen.” 


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