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Slain Afghan Interpreter's Family Has Moved To The U.S. After 10-Year Wait

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The White House says it's preparing to relocate thousands of Afghans who worked with U.S. forces the last 20 years. And today, President Biden said, quote, "Those who helped us will not be left behind." This comes as life-threatening delays have put Afghan interpreters and others at risk. One interpreter's family arrived safely in Houston earlier this month, but not without tragedy. Houston Public Media's Elizabeth Trovall was at the airport when the family arrived.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Welcome.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hello.

ELIZABETH TROVALL, BYLINE: At the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, veterans and refugee volunteers hand American flags and yellow roses to the seven members of the Mohammad family. Cress Clippard is one of those waiting. He's with the veterans nonprofit group Combined Arms. Clippard approaches the eldest son with a folded American flag.

CRESS CLIPPARD: This is your flag now and for the sacrifice your father made. Can we give this to your mother?

TROVALL: The family - a widow and her six children - has been on a long journey from Afghanistan, a bittersweet one. The husband and father was hunted down and killed by the Taliban in January, soon after the family received initial approval for a visa to the U.S. Here's Clippard again.

CLIPPARD: We're helping the family. You know, that's the best we can do. And that's tremendous that we're here to do that. But it's too late. They lost their father. They lost their husband. It's really tragic.

TROVALL: Mohammad, referred to by his middle name for security reasons, was eligible to come to the states under a special immigrant visa program. Interpreters and other workers from Iraq and Afghanistan who aided the U.S. military are eligible. He spent a decade in the visa process. These long delays aren't uncommon if you ask attorneys and other interpreters, like Asadullah Jan.

ASADULLAH JAN: It's a long wait. Trust me. You check your email every day, like 10 times in a day - that I will get a good news right now. I'm going to get a - but there's no good news coming to you.

TROVALL: Jan says it took him six years to secure a visa. During that time, he had to move around Afghanistan to avoid the Taliban. Days later, I sat down with the Mohammad family at their new Houston apartment. Through an interpreter, Mohammad's oldest son, who asked that we not use his name, says the Taliban targets people associated with U.S. armed forces.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Through interpreter) The bad people just looking at the sky - if they're going to the American base with the forces. And they just stay on the way. And they just kill them.

TROVALL: Julie Kornfeld is the Mohammad family's attorney. She's with the International Refugee Assistance Project. Kornfeld got word of yet another Afghan visa applicant who was murdered earlier this month.

JULIE KORNFELD: This is common. And also, Mohammad and Mohammad's brother-in-law have let me know throughout the years that I've been representing them of their friends, their colleagues that have been murdered while waiting.

TROVALL: Kornfeld says, at this point, the visa program won't be enough to get all these families to safety before the U.S. pulls out of Afghanistan, which is happening ahead of schedule and is expected to be completed by mid-July.

As for the Mohammad family, when I ask them about their father and husband, they tear up. They were supposed to come to the U.S. together.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: Their feeling is like alarm without father. So they are confused here. But they're feeling good, too, because they are safe now here.

TROVALL: The son tells me the family is looking forward to working and getting an American education. For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Trovall in Houston.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAG'S "LABRADOR (ENCORE)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.