In Afghanistan, interpreters who helped U.S. in war denied visas; U.S. says they face no threat
KABUL — A growing number of Afghan interpreters who worked alongside American troops are being denied U.S. visas allotted by Congress because the State Department says there is no serious threat against their lives.
But the interpreters, many of whom served in Taliban havens, say U.S. officials are drastically underestimating the danger they face. Immigration attorneys and Afghan interpreters say the denials are occurring just as concerns about Taliban retribution are mounting with the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
“There are tons of Talibs in my village, and they all know that I worked with the Americans,” said one interpreter, Mohammad, who asked that his last name not be published for security reasons. “If I can't go to the States, my life is over. I swear to God, one day the Taliban will catch me.”
Taking risks for Americans
Mohammad received a U.S. form letter saying he had failed to establish that there was a “serious threat” against his life. He had explained in his application that the Taliban had spotted him on the job and spread word in his village that he was a wanted man.
In the initial phase of the visa process, “an applicant has to establish that he or she has experienced or is experiencing an ongoing serious threat as a consequence of employment by or on behalf of the U.S. government,” said Robert Hilton, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
He said the applications were examined by an embassy committee, which decided whether they should move forward to Washington.
Another interpreter who received a similar denial, and gave only his partial name, Naseri, had survived three attacks by improvised bombs on the military units he accompanied during a five-year stint. He said he explained in a visa interview at the U.S. Embassy that he'd been called a “spy and a traitor” while on patrol with his American unit and that the Taliban knew where he and his family lived. This year, he said, someone called his father and threatened to kill members of his family.
Several U.S. military officers wrote letters to the State Department about the role Naseri played.
“Every house we went into, he went into. Every firefight we went into, he went into,” said Lt. Matt Orr, who worked with Naseri in one of the most dangerous corners of eastern Afghanistan. He said he was baffled when Naseri received his denial.
Slow to help
Since the program's inception four years ago, 1,648 interpreters have received the Special Immigrant Visas, or SIVs, out of the 8,750 allocated by Congress.
The program has been dogged by delays and other problems. The State Department was criticized this year for temporarily revoking one interpreter's visa without explanation and for denying other applicants based on vague accusations that they were affiliated with terrorist groups.
But the most recent spate of denials could affect a broader range of interpreters. They go to the core reason the program exists — the threat to Afghan men and women who worked for the U.S. government here.
Supporters of the program in Congress expressed anger at the latest controversy to hit the program.
“I am deeply concerned about recent reports that the threat posed to interpreters by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan are being downplayed or disregarded,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, a veteran of the Afghan war, when asked for reaction. “The current process for approving visas threatens to undermine the commitment we made to stand with them.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Antarctica yields life in extremest of conditions, so what about on another planet?
- Iran blames U.S. drone for killing military advisers in Iraq
- Airstrike hits aid camp for displaced in Yemen, kills dozens
- Shiia militias in Iraq say they have assurances U.S. will stop strikes
- Afghan president vows self-reliance for nation
- Copilot’s friends doubt Germanwings crash intentional
- Airstrikes intensify in Yemen as Egypt, Saudis consider ground forces
- Suspect in Tunisian museum attack killed
- ‘Substantial’ roadblocks remain as nuclear talks with Iran go down to wire
- Co-pilot in Germanwings Alps crash treated for suicidal tendencies