Reagan Dunn, a King County councilmember, recently introduced legislation to establish a fellowship program for Afghan immigrants settling in King County. The ordinance had its first reading at a county council meeting Oct. 26.
The initiative is intended to provide opportunities for educational and occupational growth for interpreters who served alongside U.S. military personnel throughout the war in Afghanistan for at least one year.
The fellowship proposed by Dunn is a pilot program, set to run through December 2024 if passed by the King County Council. It’s currently under review by the Government Accountability and Oversight Committee.
Dunn said Afghan interpreters arriving in King County are faced with the challenge of making a new home in an unfamiliar country or else facing persecution at home for working with the U.S. government.
“It is the right thing to do to provide them with workforce training and education as they rebuild their lives in America … which will help them become leaders in their communities and support others who are resettling,” Dunn said.
Obtaining a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV), the program that grants permanent residency to those who serve the U.S. government abroad, is a 14-step process that takes anywhere from two to 10 years to complete. Ahmad Abid, a representative from the Afghan American Cultural Association, an organization based in King County, said there are a myriad of challenges faced by Afghan immigrants in their efforts to obtain SIVs, often due to an inability to acquire a letter of recommendation.
Additionally, interpreters who served the United States face unique challenges due to their close proximity to military operations and diplomatic personnel.
“These interpreters are stranded and in hiding from Taliban and other terrorists,” Ahmad said.
Athmar Al-Ghanim, a first-year applying to study health informatics and health information management, said she feels interpreters are not given what they were promised, despite the vital role they played in U.S. overseas operations.
“[They] are very significant people in the communication between Afghanistan and the United States,” Al-Ghanim said.
Al-Ghanim’s mother, Zarby Kakar, echoed these assertions. As a translator and Refugee Support Coordinator at the Immigrant Women’s Community Center, Kakar spoke to the importance of having accessible housing and educational opportunities upon arriving in the U.S. as an immigrant. Kakar left Afghanistan for the United States in 1985. A sense of belonging is incredibly important for those resettling in an unfamiliar country.
“It’s crucial. It’s your lifeline,” Kakar said. “That’s the only connection you will have to people that look like you, that are similar to you.”
Al-Ghanim said, as a UW student, she has yet to meet anyone on campus who is connected to the Afghan community. Despite a massive influx of Afghans to King County in the weeks following the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, significant steps remain to be taken by UW, as a prominent educational institution, and by King County.
There is a need to connect this newly resettled population with employment opportunities and even scholarship-funded educational programs.
“Just like the interpreters gave their life serving the United States, [the] United States needs to keep that exact promise to them as well,” Kakar said.
Reach contributing writer Taija PerryCook at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @taijalynne
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