No safe place

Afghans risked their lives for U.S., now struggle in Sacramento

Afghan allies from war on terror struggle to find the American dream

The State Department offers Special Immigrant Visas to Afghans who risked their lives translating and providing other services to U.S. and allied forces during the war on terror. Sacramento's ethnic diversity and mild climate have made it a magnet for these refugees, making California’s capital city home to 2,000 Afghans with these special visas. Their transition has been difficult. They’ve faced poverty and violence, and some long for their war-torn homeland.

Jessica Koscielniak McClatchy



 

They served alongside U.S. troops in Afghanistan, risking their lives to help the American war effort.

Some were interpreters. Others were doctors, diplomats or engineers. Because of their ties to the United States, they were targeted for death by the resurgent Taliban and its sympathizers.

The U.S. Congress, recognizing this danger, chose to reward these war veterans with special visas allowing them to come to the United States. More than 2,000 Afghans with such visas have been resettled in Sacramento County since October 2010, the highest number of any county in California.

Many say they’re deeply disappointed. Professionals in their own country, they have been relegated to the American underclass, enduring poverty and crime. Sometimes, they despair.

Read their stories

THE JOURNALISTS

Renée C. Byer has worked as a senior photojournalist at The Sacramento Bee since 2003. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography in 2007 for “A Mother’s Journey,” and named a finalist in the same category in 2013 for “A Grandfather’s Sorrow and Love.” Her images helped document The Bee’s investigative series on Nevada patient dumping that was named a Pulitzer finalist in 2014. Her internationally acclaimed book, “Living on a Dollar a Day: The Lives and Faces of the World’s Poor,” invites you to put an end to extreme poverty. Her work is internationally exhibited and published.
Stephen Magagnini, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., has covered ethnic affairs for The Sacramento Bee since 1993. In 2001, his “Orphans of History” project on Hmong refugees won a distinguished writing award from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. He also received a Lifetime Achievement Award for outstanding coverage of race and ethnicity in America from the Columbia University School of Journalism. Magagnini has been a Freedom Forum fellow and a Jefferson Fellow in Asian Studies. In 2002, he completed a Stanford Knight fellowship. He has taught journalism at UC Davis since 2000.
Jessica Koscielniak is an Emmy-nominated video journalist with McClatchy’s Video Lab in Washington, D.C. A native of northwest Indiana, Koscielniak previously worked as a multimedia journalist at the Chicago Sun-Times, where her work documenting the city’s gun violence epidemic won a Sigma Delta Chi Award from the Society of Professional Journalists. Most recently her work was recognized by the White House News Photographers Association.