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Nebraska woman continues effort to help Afghans

Man she helped immigrate now assists her efforts
Published: Sep. 1, 2021 at 10:50 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The U.S. may have pulled out, but American efforts to get their friends out haven’t stopped.

“All of my friends there, sometimes I just don’t have an answer for them,” said an Afghan man now living in the U.S. “When I just talk, they just hope, they trust the U.S. government, that’s who they’re trusting.”

The man 6 News will refer to as “Mohammed” must conceal his identity because he is well known to the Taliban in his home region, having worked alongside Americans helping to build independent infrastructure over the past decade. When he went home in June to see his ailing father, Mohammed was encouraged to cut his two month trip short by family because of the dangers. After he returned to his home in Sacramento, his father passed away.

”My dad said, ‘OK, we’ve seen each other now; you have to go back,’ ” Mohammed said via Zoom. “I have no hope to go back. It’s very difficult. There’s a lot of my family there. It’s very difficult.”

The 35-year-old Afghan worked alongside Shelli Heil in the USAid program. The Nebraska woman spent three years in various municipalities, training and mentoring men like Mohammed. She became close with them and their families, and since returning to the U.S. has helped 21 families obtain Special Immigrant Visas.

“It’s never been a safe place to have worked for a U.S. government contractor,” Heil said via Zoom from Honduras, where she is CEO of an energy company. “It was always dangerous, they were always making the choice to do it, and I can tell you, the ones who worked with me, they believed in the change, they believed in a different future. And they believed us when we said we wouldn’t leave them.”

With the help of some of those people such as Mohammed, she is working to get 47 more families to the United States under the program, despite Taliban efforts to thwart immigration.

“We’re trying to help those who were left behind,” he said. “I call them and they say, well they feel sorry. I say, ‘No, no. We are here. We don’t forget you.’ ”

Heil’s efforts to assist remaining families are made more difficult by the Taliban takeover, and the void of any official U.S. presence. Previously, the immigration paperwork could be presented at the embassy in Kabul, and the options now aren’t easy with the embassy vacated. Banks are closed and those who want to flee Taliban rule are forced to make their way to the borders, where their paperwork isn’t a guarantee of help.

“They’re still scared about it, what could happen,” Mohammed said. “There’s still a risk, but they’ll take the risk, you know, because they see what’s happening.”

Living with his wife and their two children in California, Mohammed said his boys love their life and school. He added he is very proud of his wife for expressing herself as a woman in America, where she is free to drive a car and enjoy what most Americans believe are basic freedoms. Next year, he said, she plans to begin college nursing studies.

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