His trip to the United States began on the battlefield in his native Afghanistan. Shinwari, 42, served nine years as a translator for US forces, knowing he was risking his life and endangering his family.
During this period, Shinwari saved the lives of several American soldiers, including one who helped bring Shinwari and his family to the United States.
“If I were in Afghanistan – if I hadn’t come here, I wouldn’t be alive now. I would be dead.” Shinwari told CNN’s Heroes in 2018.
At the time, he recalled his decision to join the US military after seeing the Taliban regime’s terror for the first time. Shinwari knew the United States needed translators, but he also understood the dangers.
“If the Taliban catch you, they will torture you in front of your children and families and make a film about you and then send it to other translators as a warning to stop working with US forces,” Shinwari said.
Acting Undersecretary of Homeland Security Ken Cucinelli was sworn in to Shinwari and his wife on Monday in Fairfax, Virginia. Kuchinelli honored Shinwari for his service and for saving the lives of five American soldiers.
In 2018, Zeller told CNN Heroes that he was knocked out when a mortar exploded, knocking him into a ditch. When he regained his senses, he believed he was about to die.
“I would make peace with my destiny and I would go out to fight,” he said.
What Zeller did not realize was that two Taliban fighters were approaching him. Then Shinwari, who was crawling through the bushes, shot and killed them. Zeller recalled that Shinwari was standing over him and said, “I’m Yannis. I’m one of your translators, too. You’re not safe.” Shinwari recalled how to secure Zeller in a safe place and create an inseparable connection.
“Since then, we have become even closer than the brothers,” Shinwari said.
The Taliban then put Shinwari on a list of strikes aimed at translators working with US troops. He reached out to Zeller to help him obtain a visa to come to the United States. Shinwari said he expects the process to take several months. But it took years.
Meanwhile, 38-year-old Zeller worked tirelessly to help Shinwari. He petitioned for Change.org and encroached on his connections in Congress.
“I just asked anyone who would listen, ‘Will you help me?’ I owe my life to this man. I am ready to do whatever is necessary. I will invest money and call any service. I’m going to owe anything. “I have to. Tell me what I have to do to help you help me,” Zeller told CNN.
Shinwari and his family finally received a visa in 2013. Once in the United States, Zeller helped the Shinwari settle in their new home. He helped Shinwari find a job, get a car and run Shinwaris during their first year in America. Zeller even created GoFundMe, which raised $ 35,000 for Shinwaris’ expenses.
But Shinwari was thinking of other translators who were still in danger in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“We are happy. But I am not happy with my colleagues, my brothers and sisters who have served the US government in Afghanistan and Iraq, and they are still abandoned,” he said. “I will fight for them, bring them here. And we will not stop fighting. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. But I will fight for them.”
Since then, the group has helped more than 5,000 translators and their families come to the United States, guiding them through the visa process. The organization provides resettlement and support services upon arrival, such as finding permanent residence, furnishing the home, employment and language skills.
“I will not stop fighting until I get the last translator left behind,” Shinwari said. “I promise them that I will never forget my brothers and sisters that they are still left in Iraq and Afghanistan.”