Las Vegas Review-Journal

Evacuee’s Thanksgivi­ng

Afghan finds haven in Las Vegas with family of U.S. pilot

- By Mary Hynes

Benny believed his destiny was to come to America. After learning English, he served as an interprete­r for U.S. military forces in Afghanista­n when he was just a teenager. After graduating from college, he worked for a U.S. government contractor.

“I love the United States. I always have,” said Benny, 26. “My time with U.S. soldiers helping interpret for them allowed me to see Americans closely.”

Benny received threats urging him to stop working with the Americans.

When the threats intensifie­d, and shots were fired into his car, he took a job with an Afghan airline, thinking it would be safer for him and his family.

taught me how to prepare breakfast for myself, and we’re still working on that,” he said with a laugh.

Aid for evacuees

The Hoffmans connected Benny with the African Community Center, a Las Vegas agency tasked with assisting Afghan evacuees with resettling in Southern Nevada.

The center’s director, Milan Devetak, said that Benny is a “humanitari­an parolee,” a designatio­n that allowed him and other Afghan evacuees to enter the U.S. legally without the yearslong wait facing many refugees. He must now petition to stay in the country and for his wife to join him in the U.S.

Of the 100 Afghan evacuees the center has committed to resettling in Southern Nevada, 77 already have arrived, according to Devetak. Like similar agencies across the country, the small nonprofit has been overwhelme­d by the rapid influx of the Afghans and meeting their immediate needs. Housing poses a particular­ly daunting challenge.

“Housing is almost impossible for us to find,” Devetak said.

In Southern Nevada, there already are wait lists for low-cost housing. Long-term rental budget hotels are nearly full. Then, too, there is reluctance to rent to someone without a job, credit history or references.

But “almost impossible” is not the same as impossible. Through a grant to Airbnb, most of the evacuees are staying their first month in vacation rentals, after which other arrangemen­ts will need to be found, Devetak said.

With lodging not an immediate concern, Benny is focused on other issues. The center is helping him to obtain authorizat­ion to work legally in the country so he can get a job. For how, Benny is volunteeri­ng as a translator at the center.

The center is partnering with the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada to assist Benny pro-bono with his petition to remain in the U.S. and his efforts to reunite with his wife and parents.

In hiding in Kabul

Benny’s parents have left their home and are in hiding with his wife in Kabul. They have little money or food. When they were questioned by the Taliban, Benny’s wife lied about his whereabout­s; most of the 70,000 Afghans evacuated to the U.S. had assisted the U.S. government in some way and would be viewed by the new regime as traitors.

“Every second, every minute, they have to worry what’s going to happen next,” Benny said.

Ebru Cetin, a staff attorney with the Family Justice Project at the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, said she could not speak about a specific case but agreed to address in general terms the legal hurdles faced by Afghan evacuees.

Congress has prioritize­d the petitions of the Afghan evacuees to stay in the country, she said. It has asked that their interviews for asylum occur within 45 days of applicatio­n and that decisions be rendered within 150 days. However, a case backlog could affect the timeline.

Special immigrant visas also are available to Afghans who have worked as interprete­rs for the U.S. government, though it’s unclear whether this route would result in a speedier resolution, she said.

Once an evacuee is granted asylum, he or she can petition to be reunited with a spouse or children. There are separate, less straight-forward processes by which parents and other relatives can enter the country.

Afghanista­n’s upheaval and the absence of a U.S. Embassy complicate an exit from the country. Ensuring safe passage for people who are in hiding poses further challenges.

The Hoffmans have asked their congresswo­man, Rep. Susie Lee, and U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen to intervene on behalf of Benny’s family. Cortez Masto’s office is coordinati­ng the effort.

A representa­tive said the senator and her staff have been working with the State Department and the Biden administra­tion to help Nevadans and their relatives who have contacted them for help.

“We’re doing the legwork,” Ellen Hoffman said, speaking directly to the lawmakers. “We will do the paperwork, we will hand deliver this stuff to you if you want. Now you need to do your part. You need to push through and get in touch and do what we elected you to do.”

Thankful for much

Benny is celebratin­g his first Thanksgivi­ng with the Hoffmans, including Christophe­r, who flew in on Friday with his wife, Kristin, and the couple’s 6-month old daughter, Caroline. Joining them is Christophe­r’s sister, Hailey, with Ellen’s parents and nieces.

Benny said he is grateful for the Hoffmans.

“The best thing that I have is a family that are taking care of my food, my money, my outfits, everything,” he said. “And they are taking care of me — not only the financial part, they are taking care of my feelings. They’re trying to make me feel comfortabl­e and they are talking to me about my family. … Their support is giving me strength and hope.”

Scott Hoffman said that Benny has given back to his family in unexpected ways.

“Many vets, like me, were devastated when Kabul fell. So much blood, sweat and tears seeming to be erased in an instant,” the retired officer said. “Having Benny with us made me realize it was not for nothing.”

“We kept the homeland safe,” he continued. “One Afghan generation grew up, had a chance at an education and a chance to dream big. Some of those fine people are now in the U.S. and will be great citizens.”

 ?? L.E. Baskow Las Vegas Review-journal @Left_eye_images ?? From left, Afghan refugee Benny with Christophe­r Hoffman, his wife, Kristin, parents Ellen and Scott Hoffman and daughter Caroline.
L.E. Baskow Las Vegas Review-journal @Left_eye_images From left, Afghan refugee Benny with Christophe­r Hoffman, his wife, Kristin, parents Ellen and Scott Hoffman and daughter Caroline.
 ?? U.S. Air Force ?? U.S. Air Force Capt. Christophe­r Hoffman in Afghanista­n. He pilots C-17 cargo aircraft.
U.S. Air Force U.S. Air Force Capt. Christophe­r Hoffman in Afghanista­n. He pilots C-17 cargo aircraft.

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