Janis Shinwari, a linguist who served with the U.S. Army during the war in Afghanistan, finally arrived in the USA last week after years of effort by his comrade in arms, US soldier Matt Zeller. Zeller made it his personal mission to secure a US visa for his interpreter, helping to fulfill the promise of the Afghan Allies Special Visa Program to protect those Afghans who have risked their lives to protect American ones.
Zeller told CBS, “I got my last member of my unit home. I can breathe a sigh of relief for the first time in five years. I got my buddy home.”
CBS News’ Jan Crawford reported on CBS This Morning on Zimmer’s “determination to uphold a promise and his fight through years of roadblocks and bureaucratic red tape—all to save the Afghan translator who he says saved his life during a battle, and became like a brother to him.”
AS US forces pull out of Afghanistan, thousands of Afghan who also served have been left behind, afloat in a visa limbo courtesy of the US State Department, which has been processing applications at a fog-bound pace. Not too surprising, since all it takes to stop a visa application in its track is a single Taliban telephone call claiming an applicant is a terrorist.
It’s only because of the extraordinary efforts of Zimmer, previously noted on this blog, that Shinwari was able to successfully run the State visa gauntlet. After years of effort, Zimmer’s post on change.org brought the problems with the Afghan Allies program to national attention. Once the national media got cranked up, the wheels began to turn, and soon enough Shinwari was able to climb aboard his freedom bird.
Thousands of linguists and others remain behind still, but it’s encouraging to see Shinwari safe and a rising awareness of this problem in media and government.
Check out this great CBS report on the story behind Zimmer and Shinwari bond: (5:30)
I write about this problem often, because I feel a professional responsibility/guilt for anyone in our trade who puts their life at risk simply to provide an opportunity for people speaking different languages to speak together. I joined the Red-T to do what I can to help out fellow linguists like Shinwari caught in the crossfire. I hope you will consider supporting our efforts as well. Please check out our Facebook page for more good news, which I’ll be posting on soon.