116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA FALLS — Zalmay Niazy waited seven years for the news he received last week.
The former Afghan interpreter who settled in Iowa, and earned widespread support from his community and beyond for his quest to remain in the country, learned that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was dropping terrorist charges against him and his dream of being granted asylum likely would become a reality.
Known to his friends as “Zee,” Niazy is scheduled to attend a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Department Master hearing Oct. 4 in Omaha. Through conversations with his Des Moines attorney, Niazy is confident the process will begin that will grant his asylum.
"Speaking to my lawyer, he's 95-100 percent sure this will lead to my asylum," Niazy said.
His journey has been publicized on a national scale, including in June in The Gazette. The Afghanistan native was an interpreter for the U.S. military for three years before he left the country to build a new life in Iowa Falls.
After reaching out to a cousin here and arriving in Iowa Falls in 2015, Niazy purchased and renovated a home. He started his own business, Zee’s Handyman Services LLC.
Three months ago, he was notified by Homeland Security that his request for asylum had been denied and deportation would follow. The reason: Niazy’s answer to a question about his interaction with the Taliban. He told immigration officials of his encounter with a member of the Taliban on the street when he was 9 years old.
The Taliban militants told Niazy to bring them a piece of bread or they would burn his family's house to the ground. Those actions were interpreted by the U.S. government as assisting terrorists.
Since then, Niazy has received an outpouring of support from his friends — and even strangers — who built a groundswell of local and national support to find a way to keep him in the United States. Due to his aid to the U.S. military, Niazy asserted he faced "certain death" if he were to be deported to Afghanistan.
News last Thursday that the charges were dropped was bittersweet, considering the unrest that is going on in Afghanistan during the past week. U.S. military forces are evacuating the country, and the Taliban has already overtaken the government.
"I have been waiting seven long years for this day, but it is very conflicting for me. I wish this would have happened before the last week. I may have enjoyed the news a bit more," Niazy said. "What is happening in my country is not right. It's like 20 years of hard work and sacrifice have gone away in a matter of days. I feel helpless."
Niazy has eight family members living in Afghanistan, including his parents and multiple siblings. He speaks to them two or three times a day, and said they are happy for him.
"I would rather have been with my family rather than them being prisoners of the country (Afghanistan). I just wanted to be there and walk with them through this whole situation. They are going through this because of me. If I had stayed there, they might not have had any problems," Niazy said. "When we speak, they reassure me the are fine. They tell me they are happy I'm here. At times I wake up in the middle of the night and hope what is happening there is a dream. I see those ugly faces (Taliban) again and just wish they would have left the country the way it was."
Niazy said the Taliban is going door to door and removing Afghan residents who aided the U.S. military. "They take them to an unknown location and you will never see them breathe or walk again," Niazy said.
Niazy said despite his life-changing news, he plans to seek any avenues to help his family. He's already contacted his lawyer to see what can be done to assist them. While his emotions were up and down regarding his own circumstances, the Iowa Falls resident never lost hope that a good outcome would happen.
"It would have taken someone just a few minutes with common sense to go through my papers to know that I'm no terrorist," Niazy said. I feel like I can breathe again. But if you told me I could go back to Afghanistan to see my parents one more time, I would do that. I never wanted to start my life over again, but I feel like I have my life back."