DURHAM, N.C. — An Afghan refugee who has been trying for years to get her husband out said the latest developments in Afghanistan have left her in a bad state of shock.
What You Need To Know
Fatema Mohammadi filed a family reunification visa for her husband three years ago
I-730 visa applications currently shouldn't take more than 28 months, per USCIS
The Taliban's success means there is no safe way for Mohammadi's husband to leave the country
The United States has taken in a tiny fraction of the total number of Afghan refugees worldwide
Fatema Mohammadi said she, her family and her husband fled from Afghanistan to Turkey in 2014. After three years of paperwork, she, her father and her sisters were able to get admitted to the U.S., settling in Durham. She said on two occasions, her husband had a flight to the United States lined up but it got canceled each time.
In 2018, Mohammadi filed an I-730 refugee/asylum visa for her husband. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, I-730s are generally limited to spouses, parents and children and currently take anywhere from 15 to 28 months to process. As of August 12, her husband's application was still listed as pending.
“I was thinking (at the time), what is going to happen to me and my husband?” she said. “What is going to be the situation for my husband coming here?”
Mohammadi and her husband both worked in television, she as an on-air sports reporter and he as a graphics artist. Media workers are particularly at risk as the Taliban solidify their control. Speaking from Afghanistan via videoconference, Mohammadi's husband said Taliban fighters are systematically hunting down media workers.
“They are checking your social media,” he said. “Everyone is writing on social media his job, his friends. They are searching if you are working in media or other sectors. They are capturing, they are not asking, they are just killing.”
Because of the threat to his safety, Spectrum News 1 is only referring to him as Saboor.
When Spectrum News 1 spoke to him via videoconference late last week, Saboor said most of the embassies in Afghanistan had already stopped giving out visas, so trying to go to a third country wasn't an option. That was before the Taliban's takeover of the capital of Kabul over the weekend.
Saboor said he has not been able to work for some time as the security situation in Afghanistan deteriorated. He said Afghans everywhere are treating each conversation with their family as though it will be their last.
“Because of this, we cannot focus on our goals, we cannot go somewhere to learn something new,” he said. “If you have a phone in your pocket, you cannot go home safely after dark because the thieves are killing for a mobile phone.”
Statistics from the UN show more than 2.5 million Afghans are displaced around the world, a number likely to grow as the Taliban tightens its grip. Department of Homeland Security data show the U.S. has only admitted the tiniest of fractions of those numbers: about 1,300 refugees in 2017, 809 in 2018 and about 1,100 in 2019.
Mohammadi said she has repeatedly written USCIS and members of Congress to try to get through the red tape. Congressman David Price's office said they are working on Mohammadi's case but cannot provide further details. She and Price both blame immigration restrictions put in place during the Trump administration. Mohammadi said she will speak with Sen. Thom Tillis later this week. In the meantime, she and one of her sisters have begun protesting outside a Durham church in hopes of drawing attention to the plight of Saboor and others in similar situations.
“I do this because my husband is very precious for me, and he is so important for me, and his being safe is one of my priorities in my life,” she said. “It was my last choice to do this because I want him to be here with me as soon as possible,” she said.
A USCIS spokesperson said the agency cannot comment on specific cases. The agency said the domestic processing location for I-730 requests changed in 2018, with the Los Angeles Asylum Office assuming responsibility.