Afghan Interpreter's Refugee Application Has Been Denied; 38 Members of Congress Want to Know Why

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Christian Gehrels, center, and his interpreter talk with local Afghans in eastern Paktika province on Monday, Oct. 3, 2011. U.S. Army and Afghan National Army soldiers are trying to convince local elders to attend a weekly shura council at their base. (AP Photo/ Matt Ford)

An Afghan national who spent a decade assisting the United States – and now finds his life and the lives of his wife and four daughters in danger as a result of that work – has been denied U.S. entry by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Thirty-eight members of Congress recently requested more information from USCIS regarding the rejection of his application, but so far the agency has yet to provide details.


Muhammad Kamran aided the U.S. by spending ten years as an interpreter for the U.S. military, U.S. government agencies, and the United Nations. He has at least one letter of recommendation from an American service member who worked alongside him. His brother, who also worked as an interpreter, and his sister live in Georgia with their families under refugee status. An American family has offered to sponsor him and his family. He has been threatened by the Taliban.

And yet, he has been denied for “security reasons.”

According to the Sacramento Bee, Kamran has applied for both refugee status and humanitarian parole. The first time Kamran was denied was in 2016, under the Obama administration; he appealed but was denied again in February 2017.

Kamran first began his refugee case in 2014, the year that he fled Afghanistan after the Taliban issued death threats and attempted to assassinate family members. He, his wife, and their four daughters (all under the age of 10) now live in hiding in Pakistan, where they live each day in fear.

Leaving Afghanistan so quickly caused Kamran to lose contact with the members of the U.S. military who had worked with him and could therefore vouch for him. However, according to the Sacramento Bee, by 2017 Kamran received a letter of recommendation from former Navy lieutenant Karsten Daponte, who had worked with Kamran for the first six months of 2006.

“Muhammad and his fellow interpreters were absolutely critical to our mission’s success – without them we would not have been able to complete our objectives,” Daponte wrote. “Based on my experience with him during this time period, I would have no questions about his character or his ability to have a positive benefit to U.S. society.”


Kamran was able to connect with Daponte due to the efforts of Kristy Perano, a Cornell University Ph.D. student who first became aware of Kamran’s situation after seeing a post on the Facebook page for the non-profit organization No One Left Behind. She and her parents, Ken and Susie Perano, have since joined the fight on Kamran’s behalf; they now communicate frequently with him and have offered to sponsor his family.

Kamran’s brother and sister in Georgia have offered to at least house Kamran’s four daughters, in an attempt to keep them safe.

However, every request — first for refugee status, then for humanitarian parole — has been denied.

According to the Ithaca Voice, “The denial [for humanitarian parole in October 2017] was not just for Muhammad, but for each member of his family who filed separate applications. USCIS refused to disclose why they denied the humanitarian parole cases but denied the cases because Muhammad had been denied before as a refugee. USCIS further claimed that the same discretionary ‘information’ applied to every member of the family, and consequently, even Muhammad’s young daughters were a security concern.”

Other foreigners who aided the U.S. military and government in fighting terrorism may also be having trouble obtaining refugee status.

McClatchy reported in June that Afghan interpreters could face difficulties in their attempts to obtain U.S. visas because the renewal of the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program has been under intense debate in Congress.


Furthermore, Reuters reported on August 20 that the Pentagon recently expressed concern that the U.S. has drastically reduced the number of admitted refugees who aided the American military; for example, as of August 15 of this year, only 48 Iraqis have been admitted to the U.S., compared to more than 3,000 in 2017 and approximately 5,100 in 2016.

According to Reuters, the “Pentagon is concerned that not providing safe haven to more of the Iraqis, many of whom interpreted and did other key tasks for U.S. forces, will harm national security by dissuading locals from cooperating with the U.S. in Iraq and other conflict zones.”

Security concerns regarding refugees entering under false pretenses are certainly valid. Earlier this month, the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested a refugee from Iraq on a Iraqi federal court murder warrant. According to court documents, Omar Abdulsattar Ameen, 45, had claimed to be a victim of terrorism and did not disclose his membership in two terrorist groups; he received refugee status in June 2014.

However, Kamran has ten years of history of aiding the United States in the fight against terrorism, at great risk to himself and to his family, and an American military member has vouched for him.

Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told McClatchy, “We send a very negative message to any people in country who are sympathetic with what we’re trying to do to help when we say, ‘We want your help, but we won’t guarantee your safety.’ These are folks who have done something extraordinary in support of our country in a very dangerous place.”


And leaving interpreters in such dangerous places often means torture and death at the hands of the Taliban.

Kamran’s story has caught the attention of Congress; 38 members of Congress from both sides of the aisle recently sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in an attempt to learn more about USCIS’ review of his application and its reasons for denying him refugee status and humanitarian parole.

The letter was uploaded to Scribd by Ithaca Voice reporter Kelsey O’Connor and is available here.

The letter, dated July 31, requests information regarding Kamran’s application’s denial because, “based on what is known of his circumstances,” the members of Congress are “concerned that USCIS is not appropriately considering his decade of service.”

It also notes that the “U.S. military relies on assistance from local translators and interpreters to carry out its mission, assistance which will not be forthcoming in future conflicts should we not follow through on our promises to protect those who we put in harm’s way.”

The letter requests that the “discretionary information used to deny Mr. Kamran’s refugee case” be supplied within 15 days of receipt of the letter.

August 20 would have been the 15 day deadline for a response. The day passed with no response and no information provided. According to a congressional aide, the last update from USCIS was that the agency was “continuing to gather information” for its planned response.


The waiting is difficult for Kamran and his family. According to the Sacramento Bee, Kamran sent a text saying, “I have lost everything and I have nothing now.”

Fortunately for him, the Peranos are determined to keep fighting on his behalf.

Kristy Perano started a petition, which currently has more than 48,000 signatures, while her father Ken Perano has called this “the most important fight” of his life.

As Ken Perano put it to the Sacramento Bee, “He’s done more for my country than I have.”

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan.


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