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Bridget Johnson


October 30, 2013 - 1:02 pm


An Afghan translator who saved the life of a U.S. Army captain but whose own life wound up on a Taliban kill list for his assistance to America is finally on U.S. soil.

Janis Shinwari is one of the faces of the Special Immigrant Visa program that is in disarray, leaving Iraqis and Afghans who helped U.S. forces at risk in their home countries while applications are backlogged or dismissed without recourse. Shinwari is an Afghan interpreter who worked with the U.S. military for seven years and went through a two-year application process to secure visas for himself, his wife and their two young children before being told that they had been approved — then put on hold again pending further administrative review.

Former Army Capt. Matt Zeller has been aggressively lobbying for Shinwari’s visa, stressing that the interpreter saved his life during a 2008 battle.

“Because they are so visible in their communities, many interpreters have become targets for violence. Janis knows for a fact that the Taliban has added his name to a kill list and he is in constant danger,” Zeller wrote in a petition that amassed more than 110,000 supporters.

Late last night Shinwari and his family landed at Reagan National Airport, ready to move into a Virginia apartment with the help of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and start a new life with his friend Zeller to help. “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,” Zeller told CBS News.

“He promised me that when he was leaving he told me that one day he will bring me home, and United States is my home,” Shinwari said. He hopes to continue his work as a translator for the federal government.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), who has been championing the case of the thousands of Iraqis and Afghans waiting for the special visas, stressed that there are so many more who helped our forces and now need our help.

“This is an amazing day. Mr. Shinwari and his family stepping foot on American soil, free from the deadly pursuit of those who would do them harm for helping US soldiers, embodies a promise kept,” Blumenauer said.

“But while he is an example of the SIV program eventually working, there are still thousands of brave translators and their families stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not every applicant is lucky enough to have an effective and perseverant advocate like Matt Zeller,” the congressman added. “I will continue my efforts in Congress to ensure that the SIV programs are both extended and reformed, and also continue to put pressure on the administration, State Department, and other responsible agencies to make improvements to increase the efficiency and transparency of the programs.”

On Oct. 2, the House passed by unanimous consent Blumenauer’s bill to extend the Special Immigrant Visa program that expired on Sept. 30. President Obama signed it soon after. Blumenauer followed up the vote with a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Rand Beers, FBI Director James Comey, and National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen asking for an opportunity to confer with the agencies to come up with a comprehensive plan “about who should be responsible and how we can make the Iraq and Afghanistan SIV programs function.”

This morning on the House floor, Blumenauer related the story of the reunion at Reagan National and stressed that Washington needs to do more.

He said the visa, which had been frozen because of a false Taliban tip that the interpreter was a collaborator, was reissued to Shinwari three hours after the end of the government shutdown.

“Thousands who risked their lives for Americans are still held hostage, at risk themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Blumenauer said.

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Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.

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All Comments   (8)
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It should also be noted that Janis and the other local national interpreters performed their heroic service alongside US forces unarmed. They also did not have the benefit of secure transport from U.S. FOBs and COPs when going on leave to visit their families.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Salaam, Janis. Thank you for your heroic service and welcome to America.

CPT Zeller - Your actions are in the finest traditions of the U.S. Army. I'd be honored to follow you into battle anytime.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Look folks, this is a heartwarming story and everything, but stop and think about this. How many thousands of American lives have been sacrificed over there in what was supposed to be an effort to build up THEIR country? I never met a single 'terp who had any intention of staying there and making HIS country a better place. Same goes for the Aghan politicians. They'll all be out the door with their embezzled millions, ten minutes before we leave. I'm glad this guy was a great asset to the unit and everything, but man, what about our boys who died over there on HIS behalf? Have we officially given up that effort? If so, why are more boys still risking their lives over there as we speak?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Ummm, the Afghan is a still a Muslim raised in a barbaric country. We can bring him and his family here, but chances are pretty good that if one of his kids is a girl he'll want to marry her off at 14 to some 67 year old for the price of a few goats, AND that the mother will be doing her grocery shopping wearing and burkha and they'll be compliaining about her having to show her face to get a driver's license, AND that the other kid who might be a boy won't be able to wait unitl he can grow up and wear his very own dynamite belt into a local marathon.

I suppose we should be grateful to these people for helping us out over there, but their immigrant experience is a whole lot different fro the Irish influx, or even the wave of Russians who swarmed over after the Wall fell. No other immigrant pool has felt fully justified to lie to us because we're infidels, to live off of us and ignore our laws because we're not Shariah, and to try to blow us up and kill us because their Koran says it's OK.

I'm just not able to feel a lot of warm fuzzies about this story, which I would be feeling if the American Captain had managed to get a guard dog through military security and home here to the US of A.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Accommodate and assimilate is the goal. Not many Muslims are game. Good grief!! Look across the pond. The UK has towns with Sharia law.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
So risking your own life to help out our military means lots of red tape before you can come here, but if you illegally cross the border, you get amnesty.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Thank you for posting that. It should be broadcast over CBS NBC, and ABC, and all of th' dam***d mainstream media.

Let's give Three Cheers, very loudly for the Army Captain Matt Zeller, for persevering in this bureaucratic nightmare and also to the Democrat [!] Congressman Blumenauer for following through.

The State Department ought to be ashamed of themselves, but they won't be of course.

Meanwhile, our southwestern border with Mexico is wide open, drivers'
licenses await these illegals in california [ lower case "c" is deliberate]
and the Democrat future-voter-buying campaign proceeds apace.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I think it's spelled Alta California ;-)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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