Texas groups are struggling to get Afghan interpreters on special visas in the United States: Houston public media

A sailor assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) is processing an evacuee at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday, August 15, 2021.

A former military interpreter, who moved to Houston from Afghanistan on a special visa offered to those who helped the U.S. and Allied forces, saw the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban with a mixture of fear and pain .

The man, whose name has been rejected by Houston Public Media, due to possible retaliation against family members, said he was worried about his father, who previously worked for NATO forces. He was worried about his wife’s family: his sisters are masters of the country. And he said his brother had tried unsuccessfully to escape the country with a flood of refugees at a Kabul airport.

“I didn’t have a passport, visa or anything,” the man said. “I was afraid of his safety. I wanted to get on any plane and just get out of Afghanistan and fly. Just like there were hundreds of other people. ”

In Houston, where some 1,700 Afghan performers and their families have moved with special visas, the danger to those staying in Afghanistan is real. And Texas groups are struggling with the bureaucracy to get visas that save the lives of Afghans who previously worked in the U.S. government and are now trapped.

Houston-based Combined Arms is one of the few veterans organizations that offers support to former Afghan and Iraqi contractors to obtain what are known as special immigrant visas or SIVs. But between background checks and documentation requirements, they are being obstructed by bureaucratic hurdles, according to volunteer Cress Clippard.

“We try to convey as much advice as we can,” Clippard said. “We are helping to locate former supervisors who need to write letters of recommendation for SIV applications. We are trying to pressure contracting companies that have not done so.” has provided the appropriate documentation for its former employees who request it “.

Earlier this summer Combined Arms helped an Afghan family settle in Houston after the Taliban executed her husband and father, a former military translator whose middle name was Mohammad.

But the SIV approval process has been slow. Mohammad’s family waited 10 years for him to pass the initial visa application. At one point, he even erroneously refused. And when Mohammad was killed, his visa route was invalidated. The family was eventually relocated to the country through an emergency process called humanitarian parole.

As of June 2020, an estimated 18,000 families had special immigrant visas pending. And right now, getting an SIV is a matter of life or death, Clippard said.

“We have members of our group in Houston, people we’ve received in recent years, Afghan families who have already had family members murdered in Kabul and other cities,” he said. “They are people who are part of our group. They are Houstonians and their relatives are being murdered. “

The U.S. government began evacuating its embassies in Kabul over the weekend after a withdrawal that has been largely criticized by Republicans and some Democrats. In response, President Biden said Monday that he was “deeply saddened” by the events unfolding in the country, but that he did not regret the decision to leave.

“There was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces,” Biden said. “That’s why we’re still there.”

The Taliban have insisted that their tactics have changed in recent years and that insurgents have moderated on issues such as women’s rights and the revenge of those who have worked with U.S. and allied forces. But these claims have been viewed with skepticism and thousands of Afghans have tried to flee the country in recent days.

Hundreds of refugees are expected to resettle in Texas in the coming days, with thousands more in the coming weeks in Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth. The Pentagon said this week it could provide up to 22,000 spaces at Fort Bliss in El Paso.

Among these families are likely to be many people who have worked with the U.S. military, Texas Refugee Services CEO Russell Smith told KUT.

“They run away because they were translators for us,” Smith told the station. “They were guides. They helped. And now it’s not safe for them. “

Greater Houston’s interfaith ministries said they have been working in coordination with international partners for weeks to relocate Afghans with SIV status to Houston and see two or three families each day entering Fort Lee in Virginia.

Houston’s interfaith minister, Ali Al Sudani, who was himself a military interpreter who came to the United States from Iraq in 2009, said Texas is one of the top destinations for visa holders. SIV and refugees in general, Houston in particular.

He also saw the horrified news and called the chaotic scene a “disaster.”

“This material from individuals who helped our troops and who sacrificed their lives because of their association with our troops and the work we wanted to do in Afghanistan,” Al Sudanbi said, “to see ‘ls in this kind of horrible scenes and chaos, it’s disappointing. “

“Those individuals, the SIVs who helped our troops and sacrificed their lives and believed in the hope of changing their country, we need to at least make sure they resettle safely in the United States and we are not there. turning his back, ”he said. dit.

Subscribe to Today in Houston

Fill out the form below to subscribe to the new HPM Newsroom Daily Newsletter.