Nisar Ahmadi, an Afghan refugee who resettled in Modesto six years ago, felt a mixture of emotions when he took the pledge of allegiance on Thursday, thinking of his family members back home.
For eight years, Ahmadi, now 44, worked with US Navy forces until death threats from the Taliban reached him and his family, including three young children aged 7. , 4 and 3 years old at the time. It took them three years to get special immigrant visas, allowing them to flee, and five more for the family to apply for US citizenship.
Ahmadi’s parents and two brothers still live in this war-torn country, and he is concerned for their safety.
Since 2009, up to 18,000 Afghans have received IVS, along with 45,000 accompanying immediate family members, according to the National Immigration Forum. Visa application processing times vary from about two to three years, but some have waited up to three and a half years, reports the Washington, DC-based forum, which was founded in 1982.
Afghan immigrants are less likely to be naturalized, with just 41% of them being U.S. citizens in 2019, compared to 52% of all immigrants who were naturalized, Immigration Policy reports.
In March, Ahmadi learned that he could finally be naturalized. Although his wife applied at the same time, she has yet to receive the same opportunity.
“The happiest day of my life was yesterday because I have waited a long time to become an American citizen,” he said on Friday, stressing his pride in America and his willingness to defend the country.
Security but struggles in American life
Ahmadi said he feels indebted to the United States because he and his family live in peace, very different from life in Afghanistan. This does not mean that his family’s trip is free from struggle and sacrifice.
Ahmadi has been unemployed for months. Refugees normally find work within 60 to 90 days of arrival, according to the International Rescue Committee. It was also difficult to secure housing, a problem that persists as thousands more Afghan refugees are expected to arrive over the next year.
Once he found accommodation, another barrier followed.
“The money we received… welcome money… it was not enough,” Ahmadi said.
Although refugees may request additional assistance once they have resettled and received their papers, they typically only receive a one-time payment of $ 1,125 per adult, $ 300 per child, to cover their costs. basic needs, regardless of where they end up relocating, the IRC reports. Although this money helped cover most of her rent for the first month and the deposit, Ahmadi still had to find the rent balance of $ 100 and pay for utilities and a source of transportation.
With the support of the growing Afghan community in Modesto, he was able to borrow from people he knew.
Now husband and father of a family of six – the youngest is a 5-year-old born in Modesto – Ahmadi says his children are growing up with big dreams. His 13-year-old daughter, the eldest, wants to be both a doctor and an astronaut. His 9-year-old son, the second youngest, wants to serve in the military, while his older brother is looking to become a Modesto police officer.
Before coming to the United States, Ahmadi had dreams like his children. The Uber driver was hoping to pursue higher education once he arrives in the United States, but the reality of working life makes him feel like it’s nearly impossible.
“We have to work here. There is no time to study, ”he said, adding that American life is about working to survive.
Recently, Ahmadi obtained his business license to become a truck driver. Although he believes the American dream may not come true for him, he hopes to provide for his wife and children so that they have this opportunity.
Thinking about the family left behind
But as he rebuilds his life in the United States, he can’t help but think about his parents and two younger brothers who remain in Afghanistan. Like him, his brothers have also worked with US forces, and they are waiting for their SIV requests to be processed.
He said his brothers received a call from the US Embassy during the evacuations, saying they would receive another call. “They say, ‘OK, we’ll call you back,’ but no one called them. And unfortunately… both were left behind, ”he said.
SIV applicants can only bring their spouses and children, making it more difficult for Ahmadi to bring his parents to the United States
He shared his frustration with former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who fled the country amid his fall under the Taliban to avoid further bloodshed. “He betrayed the Afghan people,” Ahmadi said.
And now, with the Taliban under control, he leaves little room for his family to escape to a neighboring country. Moreover, in the absence of passenger flights from Afghanistan, Ahmadi wonders if his family will ever make it to safety.