Mohammad Janis Shinwari, a former Afghan interpreter for U.S. troops, and his wife and two young children arrived in Washington, D.C. late Tuesday to start a new life in the United States. Shinwari was granted entry through a special immigrant visa (SIV) program enacted by Congress to help Iraqis and Afghans who worked with the U.S. government. These former U.S. government contractors are now often regarded as traitors and face death threats in their homelands.
In 2008, under the National Defense Authorization Act, Congress created 25,000 visas for Iraqis who worked with the U.S. government. Another 8,750 visas were created under the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009 for Afghans who worked with the U.S. government.
Shinwari qualified for a visa because he served for nearly seven years as an interpreter for U.S. soldiers. First Lieutenant Matt Zeller credits Shinwari with saving his life during combat. The U.S. State Department granted Shinwari a visa in September 2013, however it was revoked nearly three weeks later. Shinwari feared that the Taliban had tried to sabotage his chance at a visa, and was forced to enter hiding.
Zeller appeared on Consider This on Oct. 1 to describe his efforts to bring Shinwari to the United States. He told Consider This host Antonio Mora, "I once asked [Shinwari], 'Why did you save my life in the firefight? Why did you defend me against the Taliban?' And he didn't say, 'I want to come to America and get a visa.' He said, 'I believe in a better Afghanistan for my children.' As a father, I get that. But then he [said], 'If I can't provide them with that better Afghanistan, I hope you'll be able to honor your commitment and promise to bring me and my family to America.' And that's what we need to do right now. We are the United States of America. Our word should be our bond. We're better than this."
Shinwari was able to reach the United States, but other former interpreters in Afghanistan and Iraq have yet to receive visas. In September, the New York Times said that a number of Iraqis — in "the low thousands" — were still waiting for visas.
Meanwhile, Congress did not extend the visa program for Iraqis before it expired on Sept. 30, 2013. Earlier this month, Congress passed an extension lasting through Dec. 31, 2013. The program for Afghans is still expected to expire on its original end date of Sept. 30, 2014.
Tonight, Zeller and Shinwari will join Consider This host Antonio Mora to describe how Shinwari was finally allowed into the United States.