The U.S. should not treat its friends this way  

June 8, 2021 10:41 am

Zalmay Niazy risked his life and his family’s safety as an interpreter for the U.S. military in his native Afghanistan. Fearing retaliation by the Taliban, he traveled to the United States in 2014 and applied for asylum. In May 2021, he learned his request had been denied. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Falls Times Citizen; provided by Zalmay Niazy.)

Too often these days, Americans and our government seem to be incapable of agreeing on what the best course of action is, regardless of the issue. This is especially true when we are talking about immigration and immigrants.

Case in point: Zalmay Niazy of Iowa Falls.

Before you jump to the conclusion that Niazy sneaked into the United States without authorization, scaled a wall at our southern border, or tried to hide from immigration officials, you should know about him.

Then, I think you will agree it would be a miscarriage of justice to kick Niazy out of the U.S. and send him back to his native land, where death likely would await.

The U.S. government has bungled his case — first during President Barack Obama’s administration, then during Donald Trump’s, and now during Joe Biden’s. They all are remiss for not formally telling Niazy the U.S. is grateful for his assistance and will give him the special immigration visa to allow him to remain here for the rest of his life.

Zalmay Niazy, now in his 30s, is not just another of the countless foreign-born people who dream of living, working and raising families in the U.S. He is a native of Afghanistan and served our nation during wartime, just as surely as did the hundreds of thousands of American soldiers, sailors, Marines and Air Force personnel who were deployed there over the past 20 years as part of the Pentagon’s Operation Enduring Freedom.

Niazy was hired by the U.S. military in 2007, when he was 19, to be an interpreter for American soldiers. This was not a paper-shuffling desk job. Niazy was wounded in the line of duty by bombings and gunfire. His uncle was murdered by the Taliban, the Afghan terrorist group. And he and his family were threatened by the Taliban because he was working for the U.S. military.

After his military job ended, Niazy joined a private company in Afghanistan. In late 2014, during a business trip to the U.S., he learned the Taliban was again threatening his family — and it would not be safe for him to return home.

Niazy traveled to Iowa Falls, where a cousin lives. He applied for political asylum so he could remain here. He waited for the federal government’s decision. For six years he waited.

Finally, last month, a letter arrived from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security informing him his request has been denied. The reason: He told immigration officials he had spoken with a member of the Taliban when he was 9 years old.

Niazy explained to the Iowa Falls Times Citizen last month: “They grabbed me by the neck and said, ‘You go home and bring bread or we will burn your house.’”

Fearing the consequences if he refused, the boy did as he was told.

Even though he later worked for the U.S. military for a half-dozen years, that encounter at age 9 led U.S. immigration officials to conclude he had engaged in terrorist activities.

Niazy’s lawyer, Keith Herting of Des Moines, told the Times Citizen the allegation is ludicrous. “It’s galling that this person who put his own life in danger on multiple occasions, he had family members who died as a result of him working to support U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and the response the government is giving him is despicable.”

Niazy is a familiar face around Iowa Falls and is known by many as “Zee.” People there are raising money to help pay for a lawyer to represent him.

Zalmay Niazy is pictured in 2018 working on a flooring installation project in Iowa Falls. (Photo by Sara Konrad Baranowski/Iowa Falls Times Citizen; courtesy of the Iowa Falls Times Citizen)

He owns his business, Zee’s Handyman Services. He owns his home. He serves as a volunteer on the county’s emergency squad. And he has pitched in in other ways, too, from Iowa Falls’ yearly Fourth of July parade, to helping his elderly neighbors, the Times Citizen reported.

Niazy’s case will be heard on June 28 by an immigration judge in Omaha.

Iowa’s U.S. Senator Joni Ernst is one of the leaders of a bipartisan group of senators who wrote recently to President Biden, urging him to increase the number of special immigration visas for applicants from Afghanistan who worked on behalf of the U.S. military during the “War on Terror.”

Members of Congress also urged Biden to speed up the visa process, because the last U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan this summer — ending the longest war in U.S. history. There are fears the Taliban will retaliate against U.S. sympathizers once American soldiers are gone.

A bipartisan group of House members, including Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa, wrote a similar letter to Biden last week.

“If we fail to protect our allies in Afghanistan, it will have a lasting impact on our future partnerships and global reputation, which will then be a great detriment to our troops and the future of our national security,” their letter said.

And deporting Zalmay Niazy will not make our nation any safer.

Please stop this, Mr. President.

Randy Evans can be reached at [email protected]

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Randy Evans
Randy Evans

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, a 43-year-old nonprofit education and advocacy organization that works for improved government transparency and citizen accountability. He can be reached at [email protected].