Afghanistan-Immigrant Families

Families walk towards their flight during ongoing evacuations last month at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan. More than 30 California children are stuck in Afghanistan after traveling to the country to see their relatives weeks before the Taliban seized power and US forces left, according to school districts where the kids are enrolled.

SAN DIEGO — Veteran-led rescue groups say the Biden administration’s estimate that no more than 200 US citizens were left behind in Afghanistan is too low and also overlooks hundreds of other people they consider to be equally American: permanent legal residents with green cards.

Some groups say they continue to be contacted by American citizens in Afghanistan who did not register with the US Embassy before it closed and by others not included in previous counts because they expressed misgivings about leaving loved ones behind.

As for green card holders, they have lived in the US for years, paid taxes, become part of their communities and often have children who are US citizens. Yet the administration says it does not have an estimate on the number of such permanent residents who are in Afghanistan and desperately trying to escape Taliban rule.

“The fear is that nobody is looking for them,” said Howard Shen, spokesman for the Cajon Valley Union School District in the San Diego area that is in contact with one such family who says they cannot get out.

“They are thousands of miles away under an oppressive regime and we’re leaving them behind,” he said. “That’s not right.”

Stung by the US military’s chaotic and deadly retreat, President Biden has promised that evacuation efforts will continue for the 100 to 200 American citizens who want to leave, most of whom he said are dual citizens. And Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that extends to green card holders and Afghans who supported the US government during the 20-year war.

It’s unclear how that will work without an active US military presence in the country and the Taliban-controlled Kabul airport, a major way out of the country, now closed. But an undersecretary of state said this past week that all American citizens and permanent residents who could not get evacuation flights or were otherwise stranded had been contacted and told to expect further details about routes out once those have been arranged.

Three school districts in California say they know of more than 30 children enrolled in their schools who have not been able to return. One family who has lived in Sacramento for years has been texting daily with their children’s elementary school principal while trying to escape.

The parents and three children — all legal US residents — went to Afghanistan in April to care for their sick grandmother after being unable to do so for months because of COVID-19 restrictions. Caught by surprise by the quick Taliban takeover, the family members were unable to get through the crush of thousands of people at the airport in Kabul before the last US plane left Aug. 31.

Now they fear they will be forgotten by the US government, especially since they are not American citizens.

“I’m loosing the hope,” the mother, who is not being named to protect her safety, texted in broken English to Principal Nate McGill, who urged her to not give up.

McGill said California Democratic Rep. Doris Matsui, who has been working to free the family, tried to help them board a flight in Afghanistan. But they were pushed back. The family, whose three children are in first, third and fourth grade, fled amid tear gas and gunfire as US forces and the Taliban tried to control the crowd.

Mohammad Faizi, a green card holder from the San Diego suburb of El Cajon, said he and his wife and five children were stopped by the Taliban at a checkpoint on their way to the airport. His wife is a US citizen.

Faizi, whose family got out just before the last US flight left, said he was asked at the checkpoint why he was trying to leave Afghanistan. “I told him, ‘That’s our country. That’s my nation. We’re living there. So we have to get out of here.’ ”

The Taliban, which are in need of foreign aid, have said they will allow people with valid travel papers to leave, and the international community says it will be monitoring to see if they keep their word.

Mike Jason, who runs an ad-hoc rescue operation called Allied Airlift 21, said his volunteer group has been in contact with 78 green card holders trapped in the country, but that the figure does not capture the scale of the problem. Add their spouses and children to the tally, he said, and the number rises to nearly 400.

Jason and others say they also believe the number of US citizens is much higher than 200 people and is misleading because it does not include their family members who may be green card holders. Allied Airlift has identified 45 US citizens in the country but has documents on more than 250 family members stuck there with them.

Such volunteers say they are also skeptical of the government’s estimate because it only includes American citizens who registered with the US Embassy before it was shuttered in Kabul, a process that was entirely voluntary.

Alex Plitsas, an Iraq War veteran who is part of an informal rescue network called Digital Dunkirk, said he received calls from six US citizens stuck in Afghanistan in just one day earlier this week — and none had registered with the US Embassy.

He suspects the true number of US citizens left behind could be off by hundreds.

“Those names are starting to trickle out now,” said Plitsas, a former civilian intelligence officer in Afghanistan. “I expect that number to rise significantly.”

Plitsas said he’s also handled pleas from more than 100 US green card holders trying to leave over the past two weeks and says they should get just as much attention as US citizens.

“They live here,” he said. “They’re our folks.”

Republican Rep. Darrell Issa’s office said he is working to evacuate an 80-year-old couple who are both US citizens and live in San Diego County, along with two other families from his congressional district that covers El Cajon.

The administration says 6,000 US citizens made it out, most on US military flights.

Issa said he believes the number of US citizens still there and wanting to leave is closer to 500. That includes roughly the number the State Department says made clear they want to leave and additional US citizens who were not counted because they expressed concern about “leaving behind family members to die.”

If you include the family members of US citizens, the number of people could be as high as 1,000, he added.

“Unless we continue and get the rest of our American citizens, and all those otherwise eligible out, we won’t have done our job,” Issa said.

(1) comment

Jimzan

C'mon man Biden is a not a liar....He is a "Habitual" Liar. Biden is political trash to the core, that has the blood of American soldiers on his hands. Jimmy Carter is thankful for Biden being president...that way Carter will not go down in history as the weakest president....Biden has taken ownership of that title.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.