Translator for US Army
My name is Qismat Amin and I’m from Afghanistan. Born and raised in Afghanistan. My ethnicity is Pashtun.
I went to school in Jalalabad. As soon as I graduated from high school, I just started to work with the US military as an interpreter. I worked for three years, that was from 2010 to 2013 and applied for my SIV — Special Immigrant Visa. I waited for so long, almost for three years. I went through a lot of problems during waiting for the visa because my visa was not coming through. My interview was in 2013 in Kabul. And my visa came in January, 2017.
When I applied for the SIV — at the time when I applied I was working with the military and security. But finally, in 2013 when the military was downsizing and they didn’t need a lot of interpreters to work with them, I went back to school and I waited for my visa.
Suddenly, the ISIS – not even Taliban – emerged in Shinwari, my village where I’m from. I wasn’t living there. I was living in the city. They started looking for people who were working for the US military, especially. That was a priority. And the people who were working for the Afghan government. They had me in their hit list. Since we were not in the village, they pretty much confiscated the land, the property, whatever was left from my grandfather. Some of my relatives who were living in the village they came to my home like, “Dude, these people are actually looking for you.” That was the time when I started feeling really scared.
I was waiting for my visa for three years. I sent these emails to the embassy in Kabul like, “Hey, my life is in danger. I literally stay in my home. I’m trying to stay low profile. I’m paranoid. Every time when I go out I feel really bad. It could be like somebody’s probably following me or somebody would probably come in my home and pick me up.” The embassy told me I had to wait. But there were people that could just get their visa within three months.
The process at the Embassy was so unorganized. I have no idea what they do inside the embassy. I don’t know like based on what criteria they make a decision that whether you’re qualified or not. It’s just a very lengthy process that you don’t know. All you know and all you get in return is, “Just wait sir, just wait.”
I was waiting for my visa and I didn’t have a job. My dad was diagnosed with cancer. Whatever money that I had was gone because I spent it on my dad. I had to take my dad to treatment. I was actually taking my dad to Pakistan for better treatment, so we were crossing border. I would leave my brother to go with him. I went with him a couple times, but it was so scary for me because I worked in a Forward Operating Base, and one of the base that I worked there it was Torkham.
Torkham is a city and a major border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan. I went with my dad a couple of times, but I was completely scared because I worked on the border and the Pakistani military and people they saw me in that US uniform, like across the border. I had to take my dad across the border every month for the chemotherapy. But still, no matter what happens, this is my dad.
I applied for different jobs — even I applied for a job in the US Embassy to work again for the US I didn’t know what to do. They asked me if I applied for the SIV, the Specially Immigrant Visa. Because they said they wouldn’t hire me unless I cancelled my SIV application. So I told them no. That was a time that I actually gave up. And I though, I was going to die here. Probably somebody’s going to kill me.
In 2015 I believe, I got an email from Matt. Matt and I worked together in Afghanistan.Matt ws the intelligence officer and we worked a lot together, so he was one of those people that I hung out with a lot. And he trusted me a lot. He sent me an email and asked why I was still in Afghanistan. So, I explained the whole story to him.
Matt told me to send my documents, and then he reached out to some of the Congress people here. They started to do a Congress inquiry. But still the embassy said I had to wait. Finally, I think he kind of speed up the process. He talked to some of the students at Stanford to sign a petition to kind of speed up the process and ramped it up.
We were talking at least every other day through Viber, sending emails. Once Matt start talking to me, I started to get this hope. I thought it would happen at some point because there’s my friend, who was a Stanford law student and he was the president of the IRAP (International Refugee Assistant Program ) chapter.
But it’s sad that you also see some people are left behind who are entitled to come to the United States. I’ve seen people that did not even work for the military. They just work in an NGO, they got a letter form America and they’re here in America. I’m talking about thousand people made it to the US who were not in the battlefield. You should give a priority to the interpreters and the people who put their lives on the line because they were in the war.
I came to the US on February 18, 2017. I’m waited for three years for the visa, every single day I’m praying, keeping finger crossed my visa will come through. And finally, when I got an email like I got my visa, I was so excited. But it’s sad that you also see some people are left behind who are entitled to come to the United States. I’ve seen people that did not even work for the military. They just work in an NGO, they got a letter form America and they’re here in America. I’m talking about thousand people made it to the US who were not in the battlefield. You should give a priority to the interpreters and the people who put their lives on the line because they were in the war.
As soon as my visa was issued, I went to Kabul to pick up my visa next morning. I just looked on Facebook and social media and the new President of the United States, President Trump, just signed the banning order and if you’re Muslim and if you’re an immigrant, you can’t make it through. I was like, “Oh my God! Why is this all happening to me?”. It’s not an embassy that we have to fight with, it’s not something that I have to wait for it, it’s something that it is a rule. It’s a president’s call.
Then I started feeling paranoid like thinking and I just called Matt. Matt didn’t know what was going on either. One thing that kind of like gave me hope, when I look up on the list of the banning countries, Afghanistan was not a part of it. The second thing is that I had a special status so it’s especially immigrant visa.
But still I didn’t know how it works because those were the days like every morning you would wake up, you would see a different story. Probably tomorrow he’s going to say, “You know what, let’s put Afghanistan too.” Who knows? That was something that kind of scared me. Matt told me I had to come here as soon as possible. He bought me a plane ticket within a couple of weeks and told me to come to the US.
I’m leaving my family, some of my friends to go to America, and not even knowing what America looks like and I afraid that when I arrive they will say, “Go back. We don’t want you.” I was pretty scared. I had a really weird feeling. I’m like will I be able to make it or not? I ended up in San Francisco. I came to San Francisco on 18th of February. I flew up from Kabul, Afghanistan to Delhi, India and from Delhi straight to San Francisco.
I landed in San Francisco early morning, this was my first time in my life in airports. I’ve been in military airports, but those were not airports. Those were like helicopter landing and just get in the helicopter. I really wanted to see United States from the top. Like let’s see how San Francisco looks like; lights and cars and people.
The first guy scanned my passport and told me everything was fine. At the last window I went to, there was some more paperwork. I’m sitting there and there were some other people they made it through like so easy, within probably like five minutes. But they held me there for 30 minutes.
Then finally they were like, “I think you’re good.” They gave me all the paper back. I was walking through the customs, I then went out. Matt was right outside with a bunch of people with cameras and microphones. People telling me, “Welcome to America!” That was the best moment of my life. I was thinking, Oh my God, I made it! It was a great moment of my life. I made it through. It was a memory. It will be in my mind forever.
People tell me it’s a different country. America is completely different than California. My impression of the first moment that I stepped out of the airport everything was so different for me. Everything was a bigger adventure. The roads, the routes, the lights. I was literally taking picture of every place I went.
Matt took me to Stanford. I heard a lot about Stanford but I would never think that I’d be there. He told me I could go to class. I’m like, “I can go to class with you? Like Stanford Law School class and I can sit with you?” He’s like, “Yeah, there’s no problem. Do you want to go to the library?” I’m like, “People will let me go there?” Like, “Yeah, there’s no problem, you can go there.”
People were so nice. Because what I was thinking, people will be so different here they’d be like, “Who is this guy? Get out of here.” That left a big impression because the image that I had about America was a completely different than what the reality was.
When people see Americans in Afghanistan, they only see the military with weapons in a uniform. They would be nice, but they don’t really have time to talk to you just like a normal person will do. So people are like America is like weapons, war, fight, jets. That’s literally what the people’s idea is about Americans. They’re like Americans are like dropping bombs and so on, but that’s not how it is. It’s completely different. Because when I came here, people don’t even talk about war. Nobody likes war here. In Afghanistan, they don’t see normal people. People in Afghanistan think if you go to America, especially if you’re a Muslim or if you’re an immigrant, they don’t like you and they just like their own people. But I think especially in California people are very friendly. I’d say overall in America the people are pretty nice.
The only time I’ve experienced something weird was when I was in Texas. I went there for Eid after Ramadan. We were in a gas station with my four other friends, Afghan friends, and we were trying to fill up the tank. This guy jumps out of his car with his big shotgun and yelling, “Why are you following me?”
We told him, “We don’t even know who you are. Why would I follow you?” He loaded his gun and I told my friend, “Get in the car and drive away.”
We did drive away, and this guy started following us with his pickup truck on the highway. We were driving a 90 mile per hour and he was following with his shotgun loaded. We called the cops. The cop asked us what exit we were at and a few other questions. He was chasing us down very fast then he changed the direction. That was scary And I’ve been in the Bay Area for a year and a half and something like that has never happened. I think people here are different.
I think the with new immigration process, people never think about the fact that people will lose trust in Americans. That’s a huge thing. In Afghanisytan when Americans need interpreters right now, people are going to think that Americans don’t live up to their promises.
America has a very good image. It’s a country where it welcomes everyone. Now you’re ruining that image for the people. In Afghanistan, people think Americans don’t like immigrants anymore, they don’t let immigrants to their country. It means Americans obviously hate them.
Also, here in America people don’t know what’s going on and rely on media a lot. You always believe what you see. Every time when I explain things what’s going on in Afghanistan to people here, they are shocked. Every single day we’re losing 30 to 40 people in my city. Recently, for the past one month in Ramadan, a lot of attacks happened. People were killed. Nobody knows in America. There were people that I knew who died. Ever since I came to America, five to six people that I knew were gone in the last year and a half.
If there’s a possibility for someone to come here and live in peace, I think that’s a huge thing. That’s really bad if you’re stopping them. Because you are giving a person their life, you think that’s not a big thing? It’s a huge thing. I should be proud of it.
If I’m a Muslim, I do follow my religion, but it doesn’t hurt you, I totally respect what you do. I would probably follow rules more than most Americans. I would follow rules more than anyone else because I’m an immigrant. I appreciate whatever I have. I don’t take things for granted. I have my car. I have my driver’s license. I appreciate that. That takes me home, brings me back. I’m not going to do something stupid. I would definitely follow rules because I’m an immigrant and I don’t want to get in trouble for that and I will appreciate whatever I have.
What makes America great is the great people. I think as long as Americans are alive, I think things will get better. I think people are pretty nice and smart, but we just need to spread love and stop relying a lot on media
There’s always a miscommunication between America and the Islamic world. Why should we be different? What’s that difference between the non-Muslim here in America and the Muslim in the Islamic world? Especially in Afghanistan, because most of the people that I know in Afghanistan have the same idea that I have. And every time that I share this idea with people here in America we’re on the same page, so what’s the problem?