RIVERSIDE, Calif. — For 20 years, United States troops relied on the people of Afghanistan for translation and support while they were stationed in the Middle East.
In 2021, the U.S. withdrew, leaving many Afghans either in hiding or fleeing the country as the Taliban terrorist group took over.
The Mosawi family were among the 1.6 million people who fled the country.
“I lost my country. I lost my job. I lost my home. I lost everything that I had,” said Sayed Mosawi, father of the family.
Mosawi explained how he became a double target, as he had been a police officer for 20 years helping the U.S. military train other police officers. He is also a Shia Muslim, a group the Taliban has persecuted.
When the U.S. announced their withdrawal, Mosawi thought of going to the airport as everyone was trying to fly out. However, he said the Taliban had the airport surrounded, and knowing the risk he and his family would face, that was not an option.
Mosawi said he spent the days looking over his shoulder and nights tortured by his dreams.
“Every time I was having nightmares, Taliban was catching me from my behind,” he said.
Eventually, Mosawi’s family of six, along with his brother, who he said has a mental disability, were able to get to Iran and hide out there, as they hoped for a visa. After two years of waiting, they were able to get humanitarian visas to Brazil and flew there from Iran.
Not knowing anyone in Brazil and having become familiarized with English and American culture, Mosawi’s end destination became the U.S. However, he knew the journey there would be too dangerous for his wife, young kids and brother. They made the difficult decision of separating, and his oldest son stayed back to care for the family.
Sayed Mosawi and his then-18-year-old son Salar packed as much food and water as they could and began their journey to the U.S.
They left Brazil and walked, bussed and flew across nine countries in 44 days. Salar Mosawi describing their backpacks becoming lighter as the days went by, which made it easier to walk but also meant they were running out of food. Sayed Mosawi said crossing the Panama jungle was not only physically hard, but they also encountered thieves who were taking people’s money — or some as hostages.
“I never forget that because I have seen some dead people on the way in the Panama jungle on the sides of the river,” Sayed Mosawi said. “It was passengers. They died when they were coming to water. It was very traumatic for me.”
When they finally made it to the U.S.-Mexico border, Salar Mosawi said they swam across the Rio Grande into Texas and gave themselves up to detention officers as asylum seekers.
Salar Mosawi said the trip was difficult, but being separated from his father was another level of pain. His dad stayed in a detention center in McAllen, Texas, and he was sent to the detention center in Adelanto, California.
Salar Mosawi didn’t know much English and communicating with the officers was a challenge. He began using the translator app on tablets available to teach himself English during the night. He recalls not sleeping some nights, just trying to cram as much information as possible.
Although away from his dad, it was here that Salar Mosawi came in touch with the nonprofit Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice. They have been working to close the center and pressure immigration services to release everyone without a bail.
“Because nobody has bail money, you can reduce it to $500, and they still won’t leave,” said Liz Bar-El, community liaison for CLUE.
Salar Mosawi shared how he was in that situation.
“After two days of my interview with ICE, our doorman told me I was released by bond and have to pay $1,500 to release from here,” he said. “Unfortunately, we don’t know anyone in the United States. We don’t have anyone. We don’t have any money to pay.”
Salar Mosawi added that weeks went by, and without knowing where his dad was or how to get a hold of family, he was stuck in the detention center with the ability to get out but no money to do so.
Bar-El said CLUE was able to work with the center to have him released without paying a bond. It also meant he had nowhere to go, as he didn’t know anyone and was now released. CLUE was able to connect him to Conrad Nordquist, an Episcopal church member and CLUE member who opened his home as shelter for Salar Mosawi.
“I can’t change what happened in the last 20 years, but I can pick it up here and relieve some of the risk and the danger to just a couple of people,” Nordquist said.
Salar Mosawi expressed his gratitude but let them know his concern over the well-being of his father, who was back in McAllen and anxious, not knowing what happened with his son.
They spent 65 days separated until CLUE was able to sponsor Sayed Mosawi, who was then placed on a bus from Texas to Los Angeles.
As part of the LA Welcomes Collective, a network of organizations that are working to help direct migrants sent in buses to Texas, CLUE was able to get information that Sayed Mosawi was on board a bus.
Bar-El described the lack of information coming from Texas as a challenge to helping migrants, but they were able to welcome Sayed Mosawi and take him to his son.
“I was very happy to meet my son,” Sayed Mosawi said. “My heart was pounding for my son to see him.”
Nordquist is allowing both father and son to stay with him as they await their asylum case.
The reunion was an enormous relief for both of them, but they still long for the day they can once again hug their family left in Brazil. Still, they say despite the separation and long journey, they are still among the lucky ones.
“I thank God I could come here, but lots of people cannot,” Sayed Mosawi said. “I am asking the United States government, ‘Please help us help those people.’ They are really in danger in Afghanistan, especially the females.”