Oroville Mercury-Register

Dozens of California kids still stuck in Afghanista­n

- By Julie Watson

SAN DIEGO >> More than 30 California children are stuck in Afghanista­n after they traveled to the country to see their relatives weeks before the Taliban seized power and were unable to get out before U.S. forces left, according to school districts where the kids are enrolled.

Officials with three school districts — one in the San Diego area and two in Sacramento — said Wednesday that they have been in contact with the families who fear they have been forgotten by the U.S. government. The officials said that some of the children were born in the United States and are U.S. citizens.

Nearly all of the children returned to Afghanista­n with one or both parents in the spring or early summer to visit relatives. The families traveled on their own to the country and were not part of any organized trips.

Many of the families arrived in the U.S. years ago after obtaining special immigrant visas granted to Afghans who had worked for the U.S. government or U.S. military over the past two decades.

Some of the families told school district officials that they had made attempts to get on planes at the airport in Kabul but were unable get through Taliban checkpoint­s or through the throngs of Afghans surroundin­g the airport over the past two weeks. The U.S. ended its evacuation efforts and withdrew its forces on Monday.

In Sacramento, the San Juan Union School District said it had identified 27 students from 19 families enrolled in the district who said they have been unable to get out of Afghanista­n and return home.

“These numbers continue to change rapidly,” Raj Rai, a district spokeswoma­n said in an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday. “We believe that some of these families may be in transit out of Afghanista­n, as we have not been able to reach many of them in the last few days.”

Rai said the district was working with elected officials to help the families leave the country.

“San Juan Unified stands with our Afghan community and all those whose loved ones are currently in Afghanista­n,” she said. “We sincerely hope for their speedy and safe return back to the U.S. and back to our school communitie­s.”

The nearby Sacramento City Unified School District said an Afghan immigrant family with three children enrolled at Ethel I. Baker Elementary had contacted the district to ask for help in getting out of the country.

“The only word I can say is heartbreak­ing,” said district spokeswoma­n Tara Gallegos.

In the Cajon Valley Union School District in a San Diego suburb with a large refugee population, eight families reached out to their children’s schools before classes started Aug. 17 to report that they were having trouble leaving Afghanista­n.

Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California worked with the district and U.S. government officials and seven of the families have since made it out of Afghanista­n. Most are now back home in the city of El Cajon and some of the students returned to class on Monday.

But one family is still stuck in Afghanista­n, said Cajon Valley Union School District spokesman Howard Shen.

District officials were in contact with family members, he said, and trying to help them get out.

 ?? SGT. SAMUEL RUIZ — U.S. MARINE CORPS ?? Families walk toward their flight during ongoing evacuation­s at Hamid Karzai Internatio­nal Airport in Kabul, Afghanista­n.
SGT. SAMUEL RUIZ — U.S. MARINE CORPS Families walk toward their flight during ongoing evacuation­s at Hamid Karzai Internatio­nal Airport in Kabul, Afghanista­n.

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