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Family of Afghani U.S. contract worker explain need for more special visas

As the U.S. withdraws troops from Afghanistan, the U.S. House voted to open new visas to Afghan men and women who aided U.S. forces there in the 20-year war.

MODESTO, Calif. — The U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday to open new visas to the men and women who aided U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The Allies Act of 2021 will raise the special immigrant visa cap by 8,000 visas to ensure Afghan allies and their families can safely enter the United States in the coming weeks and months.

It comes as Washington withdraws U.S. forces from the country, and Afghans who worked with the U.S. face threats of violence from the Taliban and other groups.

"Those who are working on the behalf of the US in Afghanistan, they’re putting themselves and their family’s lives at risk," said Amina Adel, who worked for a U.S. contractor in Afghanistan before resettling to Modesto with her husband, Basir, and two daughters Helya and Hela, in 2020. 

Adel said her family faced several threats when her neighbors discovered she was working with the U.S. 

"They started following me, and then they stopped my husband," Adel said. "So it's not only my life at risk, my entire family's life is at risk."

Before the Adels were granted entry to the United States on a special immigrant visa, they were forced to move apartments in Kabul, change cars and change the girls' school.

“Thousands of Afghan men and women agreed to risk their lives to assist our troops during the war in Afghanistan," said Representative Josh Harder (CA-10), who voted for the bill. 

Rep. Harder personally helped reunite the Adel family -- though Amina and Basir Adel were granted entry to the U.S., their daughters were not initially allowed to join them. The Adel family reunited just days before COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions took hold in March 2020. 

The Adel family calls the Allies Act and expanded visas "a good start" but says there are thousands of other Afghan families who face similar threats. For now, Helya and Hela can look forward to a brighter future in the U.S.

"One said, 'I will be a doctor,' and the other said, 'I will be a teacher,'" Adel said.

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