More than a year before the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban in 2021, Ann Naffier—co-legal director and managing attorney for Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice—took on several family reunification cases for Afghan American families living in Iowa.
One of these cases was for Barsat (pictured right). When he was a teenager, Barsat’s family fled Afghanistan after the Taliban murdered his grandfather and targeted other family members for their support of the U.S. military. Now a U.S. citizen, Barsat had returned to Afghanistan, met Sadaf (pictured left), and married her there. Both planned to complete their studies before Sadaf joined her new husband in Iowa.
Sadaf and Barsat made this short video for Iowa MMJ last Thanksgiving. The significance of a Day of Thanks is not lost on either of them.
Although Sadaf is homesick and extremely worried about her family in Afghanistan, she is safe, learning English, and settling into her new life.
Ann started the routine application for the couple in June 2021. She got to know Sadaf through Zoom calls and Facebook messages. “She was delightful, funny, and hopeful,” reports Ann. “She was worried about leaving her family in Afghanistan, but looking forward to life in the United States with her new husband.”
Family-based immigration may be routine, but it can take several years to complete the process. Sadaf was only two months into her application when Afghanistan began its sudden and swift collapse into chaos.
Ann remembers feeling glued to the news during those first days, listening in horror as the Taliban got closer and closer to the city where her clients lived and then took over the entire country.
“It all became very personal for me,” says Ann. “I always love my job and feel like I’m involved in important world trends, but I don’t think I’ve ever before felt as personally involved in an international disaster as much as I did last August.”
Ann immediately began scrambling to get her clients out of Afghanistan. The fate of relatives—especially wives—of U.S. citizens discovered by the Taliban was too terrifying to contemplate.
Through the tenacity and bravery of their families in Afghanistan—and a good amount of luck—two of Ann’s clients were able to camp out at Kabul airport for several days while she worked to get them humanitarian visas. They were then allowed to board the crowded military aircraft and fly to safety.
Sadaf was one of those clients squeezed into the hold of the plane.
Sadaf was then sent to Fort McCoy in Wisconsin for interviewing and processing. She remained there for several weeks while Ann worked to get her out. A measles outbreak contributed to the delay, but Sadaf was eventually reunited with her husband in Iowa.
It was the best possible homecoming for Sadaf, her new husband, and her new family.
“We were all-day, all-night crying,” Barsat says, his voice breaking with emotion. “We didn’t have the hope to see her again. But Iowa MMJ helped us.”
He takes a few moments to collect himself. “We feel like we are home now,” he says. “We’re safe, and we will start our new life together.”
Ann was able to help all of her Afghan clients evacuate to safety in the United States.
On March 16, the Biden administration designated TPS (Temporary Protected Status) for Afghans currently residing in the United States.
Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice is focused on providing TPS service to the 1,000+ Afghan refugees who have recently resettled in the state.
“I’m feeling good about the folks we helped,” says Ann, “but awful about their families, and deeply concerned for all the folks who were airlifted here and, unlike Sadaf, have no clear path to permanent protection.”
She takes a deep breath. “So I’m assuaging my concerns by planning for TPS.”