Every night at 11 p.m., after her sons have long gone to bed, Zarmina Noori drags a chair away from her kitchen table and into her youngest son’s bedroom. She places it next to the twin-sized bed where 14-year-old Ahmad sleeps hooked to the machine that helps him breathe. Then she sits down, holds her iPhone in one hand and a cup of black tea in the other, and waits for the phone to ring.
Noori hasn’t gotten a full night’s sleep in years. Ahmad suffers from spina bifida, a neural birth defect that often results in damage to the spinal cord and nerves. He has hydrocephalus, or extra fluid in and around the brain, and neuromuscular dystrophy, the progressive loss of muscle mass. He can’t speak or see properly and requires 24-hour care. A home nurse takes care of Ahmad during the day, but for the past 10 years, Noori has been the one looking over the boy at night.
Everything would be easier if Noori’s husband were there to help. But Mohammad Hamid Ayoubi can only call. He is stuck on the other side of the globe, waiting for the U.S. government to approve his application to join his wife. Each night, as they FaceTime, she tells him how much she needs him and asks him if his application has been approved yet. Each time, his answer is the same: no.
Ayoubi worked as an interpreter for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, including in the volatile Kandahar province,but was forced to leave after militants threatened his life. He is seeking to come to the U.S. on a visa, but his application has been pending for two years.
President Donald Trump’s administration has decimated the U.S. refugee resettlement program, shrinking the number of people admitted and adding vetting requirements that slow down the process. Noori and Ayoubi fear that even though Ayoubi aided the U.S. effort in Afghanistan, he won’t be allowed to join them in New Jersey, and they won’t ever learn why.
“We are a family. We need to be together,” said Noori, who met Ayoubi when they were both refugees in Turkey. “I married to be together, not to be separate.”
“He worked with American soldiers and for the American people. They know my husband. I don’t know why they won’t give him a visa,” she continued. “If Trump was not president, maybe my husband would be here right now. I think Trump is making my husband not come.”
Noori and Ayoubi did not know each other before they both arrived in Turkey from Afghanistan in 2013. Noori and her sons fled Kabul when increased suicide bombings terrorized the Afghan capital. “Boom everywhere. At the schools and at the hospitals and the mosques,” she said, describing the atmosphere. “Every day I am nervous, [thinking about] what time [my sons] are leaving and what time they are coming back. Every time this happens, I think, when can I leave Afghanistan?”
Ayoubi, meanwhile, was working as an interpreter for the U.S. military in Afghanistan when he received a call from an unknown number ― someone who told him working with infidels was forbidden and that he had a week to quit his job, Ayoubi said. He thought it might be a joke, but received another call a week later saying he could be beheaded.
When Ayoubi quit and went back to his hometown, the threats continued. His family worried Afghanistan wasn’t safe for him anymore and encouraged him to leave for Turkey in July 2013.