U.S. military interpreters among those detained by Customs & Border Protection agents

Hassan Etemadi learned English from watching American movies in his rural village of Ghazni, Afghanistan. When U.S. troops arrived in his village in the early 2000s, he helped them communicate with his neighbors. The U.S Army offered him a job as their translator.

"At first it was very intense to start working with Americans,” said Etemadi.

“My family was not happy about it. My neighbors were not happy about it."

Etemadi’s village did not understand why the Americans were in Afghanistan, but Etemadi said after speaking with U.S troops, he believed in the mission: to bring freedom and peace to Afghanistan. He said he risked his life each day he worked with the Army.

"Anytime you go to those missions, there was always the possibility you could be killed,” said Etemadi.

“Any time we were in the mission, we could either be blown up by a roadside bomb, a convoy, or ambush."

Mohammed Iqbal arrived in San Francisco on Saturday. He waited since 2013 for a Special Services Visa for his work as an interpreter for the U.S. Army. When he first arrived to his first stop in Seattle, he was held by U.S. Customs & Border Protection.

"They keep me about 2, 3 hour and they didn't ask me any question,” said Iqbal.

He, too, faced near death situations working alongside American troops on missions that sometimes took them to war zones.

"I heard the sound of a bullet by my ear. The next, there is a bomb at my side,” said Iqbal.

The stress and danger of the missions became too much for Etemadi’s best friend. He quit, but was targeted by the Taliban. 

"He said 'It was too dangerous for me.' Two weeks later, his head was cut off near our base."

When U.S. troops started pulling out of Afghanistan, the two interpreters received threats. Iqbal said he couldn’t leave his house and his children couldn’t attend school for fear of kidnapping or worse.

"I am working with the US Army, I'm working with the enemy of Muslim, I'm a spy, and if I quit, ok, but if I don't quit they will kill me,” said Iqbal of the letter found at his front door.

While Etemadi was traveling with troops, insurgents visited his family and neighbors.

"There was no way I could stay in my village,” said Etemadi.
“My family was threatened, my brother was stopped many time by insurgents, and I was under watch by the Taliban."

Etemadi applied for the special forces visa in 2010. He said the process required several background checks and interviews for the next three years.

"I applied in 2010 and got my visa in 2013. It's a long process. You have to go through background checks, polygraph, and different papers,” said Etemadi.

The Afghan interpreters could only take their wives and children to the United States; extended families had to stay behind. Etemadi said he had to move his parents and brother away from their home and wheat farm for their protection, to hide in a larger city. His daughter, Sarah, was born in the U.S three years later. She’s never met her grandparents.

Etemadi and Iqbal said they don’t know what else the United States could do to make the visa vetting process more thorough.

The non-profit No One Left Behind is Etemadi and Iqbal resettle in the United States with assistance in housing, employment and adapting to American culture.