INDIANAPOLIS – He helped American forces overseas, fighting alongside Army soldiers and Navy SEALs.
During the war in Afghanistan, Hayat Nooristani was much more than a translator. But he’s still a wanted man, desperately waiting to become not just an American, but a Hoosier.
When we first met Hayat, it was during a quick Skype chat in an internet café in Jalabad, Afghanistan. He told a harrowing story of life on the run from the Taliban.
“How can I go home when they killed members of my own family?” Hayat asked during that interview with FOX59. That was 19 months ago. The Afghan-born translator had been working with the U.S. military and contractors, deciphering the language of the enemy, and at times, firing weapons at them. His work should have qualified him a one-way ticket to the United States.
“We never get an answer from the (U.S.) State Department,” said Dennis Norris, Hayat’s Indiana sponsor. “They cannot clarify anything, a lot of times, they refuse to answer.”
Norris has been Hayat’s primary advocate. Having worked alongside him in Afghanistan, Dennis knows the dangers first hand; the Taliban wants Hayat killed. And as unlikely as it seems, the terrorists who’ve been tracking Hayat have found the links to our original reports.
“They know exactly who he is and what he’s done, they know you and I know, but the threat is to Hayat,” Norris said. “He has to hide his parents, he’s out of money, he has to eat from trash heaps in the street and this is a guy that did an awful lot for the United States and the soldiers and Marines we have over there.”
It’s all out in “Outside the Wire” a new book Dennis has written about his job in Afghanistan, and his friendship with Hayat.
“I wrote this book because I wanted people to know the story, number one. Number two, Hayat has spent his entire life savings on hiding himself, hiding his parents and protecting himself.”
The book’s proceeds are going to Hayat’s college and medical fund, if he ever makes it out of Afghanistan.
Dennis isn’t the only one who’s refusing to let Hayat’s story slip away. There’s somebody else still involved in the fight, too. And they don’t sit in an office in Washington.
They sit in classrooms in Lafayette, Ind.
Crystal Mart’s American History Class at East Tipp Middle School saw Hayat’s story and made him a class project. They wrote letters to Indiana’s elected leaders urging Hayat be brought to the U.S. as soon as possible.
“This has haunted me since then, and my kids really got into the writing, we got responses then a year ago or so, thinking Hayat would be home in Indiana,” said Mart, a U.S. history teacher at East Tipp Middle School. “Instead, nothing.”
Those eighth graders are how high schoolers, and they haven’t stopped at writing letters. Now, the social improvement and action website, Change.org picked up Hayat’s story, circulating a petition, hoping to bring Hayat to America.
“When you go to change.org and search Hayat, it takes you to his petition and a copy of the letter goes to the Kabul Embassy and the State Department,” Norris said.
“After we saw the video, all of us were like, why not, it’s such a touching story,” said student Zan Santon.
Another student, Meredith Roberts, agreed: “The government is slow, and they’re not doing it as well as they probably could, if they really truly cared about it.”
If they didn’t care before, Hayat’s friends in Indiana hope they do now. Two weeks ago, the Taliban delivered a message to Hayat through his cousin.
“The message in Pashtu is ‘Hafta, bela hafta, parwa na lari.’ Which means this week, next week, it doesn’t matter, we’re gonna get you,” Norris translated.
FOX59 spoke with a source at the U.S. State Department. He declined to talk about any specific visa applicant, but says the United States government remains committed to honoring those who’ve supported American forces in Afghanistan through the special immigrant visa program. The department rep says it has ramped up its translator efforts this year.
The average wait, he pointed out, is eight months. Hayat’s been waiting more than two years.
To see the Change.org petition, click here.
For a copy of “Outside the Wire,” click here.