The Afghan man was attending a conference in California as part of his job for a US-government-funded project in Afghanistan when the Taliban sent a written death threat to his home, forcing him to make a heartbreaking decision: he would seek asylum and try to bring his wife and two young sons to the US.
Mohammad said two years later that he regrets leaving them and wishes he had never worked for the US government given the price he has paid.
While Mohammad was attempting to obtain visas for his family, his wife collapsed and died of a heart attack in 2020, while the Taliban threatened them. Mohammad, who now lives in California, has been fighting ever since to be reunited with his sons, who are now 9 and 11, and are living in hiding with their grandmother and uncle, he said. To protect them, he requested that only his first name be used.
On Thursday, the International Refugee Assistance Project, whose lawyers are representing him, filed a lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco against Secretary of State Antony Bilken, alleging that the administration failed to meet its legal obligations under the Afghan Allies Protection Act to assist his family despite his work for the US government during the country’s 20-year war. “All I want is one hug” from my children, Mohammad explained.
Mohammad stated that he has repeatedly requested assistance from the United States government. In August, he contacted the State Department after bullets pierced the house where his sons were hiding before the Taliban took control of the country. He requested that his children be evacuated as the United States military carried out one of the largest airlifts in history, but they were left behind.
The State Department did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Mohammad communicates with his sons on a daily basis, either through phone calls or text messages. On September 9, he sent another letter to the State Department requesting that his sons be granted humanitarian parole, but he said he received no response. He also contacted his state legislators in California.
Mohammad was granted a special immigrant visa in January and applied for his sons’ visas the following month, requesting that their applications be expedited because they are in “imminent danger.” Their applications are still being processed.
According to the lawsuit, “removing his children from Afghanistan, where they are in constant danger, and reuniting them with their only remaining parent is critical to their survival and well-being.”
“At this point the government has known since mid-August at minimum that these kids are alone and in serious danger, and they didn’t take any action to protect them,” said lawyer Alexandra Zaretsky of the New York-based International Refugee Assistance Project.
Mohammad, according to Zaretsky, is one of thousands of Afghans who worked for the US government in Afghanistan and were forced to leave behind close family members in order to reach safety. Many people are still fighting to be reunited with their loved ones. According to the lawsuit, the administration has provided no figures for how many special immigrant visa applicants and their family members are still stuck in Afghanistan a month after the US withdrew its troops, and it has yet to take significant action to protect them.
Mohammad said he wants his sons to know that his work promoting women’s rights in Afghanistan for a US-funded program was worthwhile, even if many of the gains may be reversed under the new Taliban government.
He also wants them to understand that “because of my loyal service to the United States,” they have the opportunity to come to a good country like the United States, where “your future is guaranteed” and they can get a “good education and other rights that human beings should have.”
He tries to persuade them not to give up, despite the fact that he is losing faith in his words. “I’m giving them hope whenever I am talking to them, but I’m also thinking, ‘But is this even possible? Are they ever going to be reunited with me here?'” he said.