Every day, Ken and Susie Perano wake up on their cattle ranch wondering whether Muhammad Kamran and his wife and four daughters are still alive.
For the past nine months, the Peranos and their daughter Kristy, 27, have been trying to get the U.S. government to grant entry to Kamran and his family. Kamran says he fled Afghanistan after working as an interpreter for U.S. forces for 10 years. He now lives in Pakistan, where he says he and his family stay in hiding to avoid being harmed by the Taliban or its surrogates.
The Peranos have agreed to sponsor the Kamran family for a year, covering all expenses, but so far the U.S. government has denied Kamran’s applications for refugee status and humanitarian parole, an emergency status which grants entry for one year to some immigrants whose lives are in danger. The government’s denial letter cites “security reasons” but doesn’t specify what those are.
“This is the most important fight of my life,” said Ken Perano, 62, a retired engineer and military contractor for Sandia Labs, who talks to Kamran and his family on a secure phone line almost daily. “He’s done more for my country than I have.”
Kamran says he was forced to flee Afghanistan after the Taliban shot up his car while his brother and nephew were inside. He says he has received death threats by letter and phone, and is terrified that the Pakistan police or military will turn him over to the Taliban, Perano said.
By denying them entry, “we’re giving a family of six a death sentence,” he said.
Ken Perano said he and his wife now consider the Kamrans part of their family and have already designated two bedrooms for them, one for Kamran and his wife and the other for their daughters, ages 2 to 9. “I’m on board,” said Susie Perano. “When I talk to his wife, Sharifa, I can feel her fear, I can see it in her eyes. I’m sure it will be challenging for everybody when they get here, but I’m looking forward to it.”
The Peranos said they can eventually move the Kamrans into an empty house on their 140-acre ranch. The Peranos’ two grown sons, who live nearby, have offered to helped the family adjust to all phases of life in California, including getting their driver’s licenses and enrolling in Medi-Cal and school.
Kamran’s brother, also an interpreter for U.S. forces, was granted refugee status in 2013 and now lives in Georgia along with their sister. If the Kamrans can’t come to Jackson, his sister has asked to take the daughters, Ken Perano said.
The Peranos, who voted for Donald Trump, now wonder if the government’s rejection of Kamran and his family reflects a policy shift under the new administration, given that it has reduced the flow of refugees into the U.S., particularly from Muslim countries.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokeswoman Claire Nicholson declined to comment on the case, and could not provide the number of discretionary denials her department has issued in humanitarian parole cases over the past year.
While they hope and wait, the Perano family has been sending the Kamrans about $1,100 a month. They also have hired an immigration lawyer, Danielle Rosché of Seattle, who called the government’s denial of Kamran and his wife and children for humanitarian parole “the most egregious case I have seen.
“The reason he’s being targeted by the Taliban is because of his work for U.S. forces, and I find it particularly revolting that the U.S. government didn’t have any concern about putting his life in danger and now we’re refusing him refuge,” she said.
Sacramento has become home to several thousand Afghan interpreters and others who were granted Special Immigrant Visas because of their service to U.S. and coalition forces. Kamran could theoretically come to the United States with such a visa, but he has had difficulty pulling together an application. When he fled Afghanistan, he left behind crucial contact information for his superiors in the U.S. military, who would be needed to write letters of recommendation.
He has since obtained such a letter with the help of Kristy Perano, a UC Davis graduate who is now getting her doctorate in environmental engineering at Cornell University. Kristy Perano said she used Linkedin to track down a former Navy officer who worked with Kamran.
“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,” wrote Karsten Daponte, a former Navy officer who worked with Kamran.
Perano said she came across Kamran when she saw his plea on the Facebook page of No One Left Behind, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit dedicated to helping Afghan interpreters escape to safety. “It’s a question of when and not if he is found tortured and murdered,” she said. Kamran said he has already been robbed, beaten end extorted by police several times.
Kristy Perano, who has been working more than 10 hours a week trying to help Kamran, said she has started a Change.org petition that has collected over 13,000 signatures in support of the family.
But the SIV path is not an easy one these days. Rosché said the process takes 2 1/2 years and only a limited number of visas are issued each year.
Kamran, 33, said he fled Pakistan in 2014 after his brother and nephew were attacked while borrowing his car. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees forwarded his case to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, but the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service denied him “as a matter of discretion for security reasons,” according to the denial letter.
Kamran appealed but was denied on Feb. 6, 2017, for the same reason, Rosché said. “They didn’t deny Muhammad for providing material support to terrorists, they denied him for nebulous security reasons. To me it’s very suspicious.”
When she and the Peranos asked the government to let the kids come to the United States, the government said “the security risk relates to the entire family,” Rosché said. In October, each of Kamran’s family members, including the children, received a denial notice.
Kamran wrote USCIS that he’d served with U.S. Special Forces, Marines and Army units. “I worked day and night alongside Americans for 10 years, faithfully and like a brother to them.”
When U.S troops departed, he wrote, “My wife and children and I were left all alone in Afghanistan – helpless, jobless and hopeless.” He said that “I became famous in my village for helping Americans, and the Taliban said I was converting people from Islam to Christianity.”
In a telephone interview with The Bee, Kamran said he could have become a teacher in Afghanistan but chose to fight terrorism,
“I’m willing to do what the government refuses to do,” said Ken Perano, the great-grandson of one of Jackson’s first Italian immigrants. “I consider Muhammad my best friend. At least let’s save the kids.”