Congressman Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) will have as his guest at President Obama's "State of the Union" speech tonight an Afghan interpreter who served alongside U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The guest, Mohammad Usafi, waited nearly four years for a special immigrant visa, Swalwell said, and has now moved to the Bay Area.
Tragically, Usafi's father was killed and a brother was kidnapped by the Taliban because of his role as an interpreter for U.S. forces. After petitioning by friends, advocates, and members of Congress, including Swalwell, Mohammad's family was granted humanitarian parole by immigration authorities to join him in the U.S. last month.
"I'm thrilled to welcome Mohammad to Washington and bring greater attention to his story and the stories of thousands of Afghan interpreters still waiting for the visas they were promised," said Swalwell, who represents a large Afghan community and met with military interpreters when he visited Afghanistan.
"It's a great relief that today Mohammad and his family live in the Bay Area, but more must be done and can be done in a bipartisan fashion to help interpreters like Mohammad," Swalwell added.
The State of the Union address falls on the exact one year anniversary of the date Mohammad arrived in the U.S. Since moving to the Bay Area, Mohammad has found a steady job and has supported his family since their arrival.
Swalwell's staff is currently helping the family move to Fremont, which is part of Swalwell's congressional district which has a large Afghan population.
On Wednesday, the day after the State of the Union, Mohammad will participate in a briefing on improvements needed to this visa program, such as allowing families of Afghan interpreters who come under threat to come to the U.S. and adding more visa slots.
Mohammad served alongside American troops in Afghanistan as an interpreter beginning in 2008. His father was killed by the Taliban because of Mohammad's service.
Even after this tragedy, Mohammad continued to serve for three more years until 2012. But, in 2013 his three year-old brother was captured by the Taliban. The family was forced to pay their life-savings of $35,000 to the Taliban as ransom. The Taliban still threatened to kill another family member.
Three and a half years after he started his application process for an SIV, Mohammad was granted his visa and came to the U.S.
Swalwell was one of several Members of Congress who was contacted by veterans who served with Mohammad to help bring his family to the Bay Area. Then, almost one year after Mohammad arrived, the State Department enabled his mother and his seven siblings to join him.