Qismat Amin, an Afghan interpreter who helped the U.S. Army, has faced death threats from the Taliban for years. His face is well-known, having appeared on television helping government officials. But the U.S. government has taken four years to grant him a special visa.
Next Wednesday, he may finally be admitted to the U.S.
But as his quest for asylum nears an end, Amin faces a new hurdle: whether the U.S. government will let him in under the President Donald Trump's "extreme vetting" plan.
Afghanistan is not among the seven countries listed in Trump's recent executive order on immigration, but thousands of refugees are fleeing the country. Trump said during his presidential campaign that he wants thorough vetting of all persons coming from predominantly Muslim countries.
Matthew Ball, a Stanford Law School student and Palo Alto resident, worked with Amin during Ball's first deployment as a U.S. Army Ranger in the Tora Bora region, where some of the fiercest fighting took place during the American surge into the area.
In total, Ball, a former captain and who is still a reservist, served in Afghanistan for three tours of duty and in Turkey for a fourth. Trump's executive order doesn't make sense to him, and it is putting the work that military personnel do overseas at risk, he said.
He hopes the order won't prevent Amin, his friend, from coming into the country. Ball and his wife, Giselle Rahn, have worked for about 1.5 years to get Amin his visa.
Amin and his family have faced death threats; the Taliban even confiscated his aunt and uncle's entire crop for a year and held it as ransom for Amin, Ball said.
"He's a public target; there's no place to hide it," Ball said on Wednesday afternoon.
Amin, who spoke fluent English, was just 18 when he worked with Ball. The son of a doctor whose family was pro-western, Amin saw interpreting for the Americans as a chance to do something good for his country, Ball recalled.
Without interpreters and allies such as Amin, American soldiers would largely be unsuccessful, Ball said. As a local, Amin understood how to approach the powerful elders that Ball and others relied on for cooperation. Sometimes the elders could play both sides, but Amin knew how to calm a tense situation or to suggest how to show respect or determine what the elders really wanted, Ball said.
"Qismat spoke phenomenal English," Ball recalled.
Even after Ball left the country, the two men kept communicating, he said.
Amin worked as an interpreter for four years; he stopped in 2013. He obtained a college degree in business but hasn't found work. Prospective employers don't want to hire him because they know he is waiting to immigrate to the U.S., Ball said.
In 2012, Amin began to apply for a special immigration visa to the U.S. through the International Refugee Assistance Project after realizing he wasn't safe. But the process has been unusually slow. His visa was hung up in administrative processing, and no one could get a clear answer about why.
Ball and his Stanford Law classmates filed petitions last year to get 12 Congress members, including Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, to file an inquiry into the case.
"We still didn't get a clear answer. There's an enormous bureaucracy that doesn't make sense," he said.
With the visa finally cleared, Ball said he is looking forward to his friend's arrival. Amin will stay with Ball and his wife in Palo Alto. He expects that Amin will need to make many adjustments to American life.
"He's never seen the ocean before; he's never seen a stoplight. He's never flown in a plane, and he's never been in a time difference," he said.
But Ball isn't worried about Amin's future once he gets to America.
"He's a really competent, incredibly driven guy and hard working. He just wants to be safe."
To determine Amin's prospects for adjusting, Ball and his wife said they recently visited an interpreter they know who has settled in Sacramento.
"He said, 'It's incredible. It's wonderful. Nobody's trying to shoot at me,'" Ball recalled. "The bar is low. As long as he can walk down the street without getting shot at, he'll be happy."
Ball said he isn't afraid refugees pose a threat to national security, despite the well-publicized terrorist instances in Europe. The majority of terrorist acts since 9/11 have been perpetrated by citizens or people who already live here, he said. He sees a trade off: maintain American values or risk what he believes is an infinitesimal chance of a refugee-initiated terrorist act.
He said he also doesn't agree with the executive order.
"It makes our job overseas a lot harder. ... We're turning our backs on these people. It also sends a message that has an impact on us, and I think that's bad. These are people who are fleeing ISIS. It's not like a bunch of people from ISIS are trying to storm the gates. You can't read the inscription on the Statue of Liberty and pretend that this doesn't go completely against it," he said.
Besides, Ball said, Amin like other locals who've aided the U.S. military has already gone through extreme vetting.
"For interpreters, there's no better vetting process than spending five years fighting alongside American soldiers," Ball said.