Zionsville Times Sentinel

April 3, 2013

One man’s mission

Local resident determined to bring friend from Afghanistan

By Andrea McCann
Zionsville Times Sentinel

Zionsville — Since 2006, Hayat Nooristani has been shot at under small arms and mortar fire, blown up by improvised explosive devices, and pulled U.S. soldiers and Zionsville resident Dennis Norris out of harm’s way while assisting the United States in war-torn Afghanistan. In retribution, the Taliban has killed many of the Afghan man’s family members, forced the rest into hiding and kept Nooristani on the run to preserve his own life.

“He’s a war hero,” Norris said. “He’s got me out of a few scrapes, and I’ve got him out of a few scrapes.”

Nooristani has worked for the U.S. military, for Norris under a government contract, and now for the military again, yet the U.S. government refused three times to grant him a special immigration visa (SIV) that would allow him to move to the United States, where he could live in relative safety.

A Zionsville resident who met Nooristani while working in Afghanistan, Norris is helping the young man in his fourth attempt by facilitating the SIV application process as much as he can and agreeing to be his U.S. sponsor.

According to Norris, who met Nooristani in 2010, the Afghan national became eligible for an SIV in 2007 and applied then for the first time. In 2008 when he met a senior State Department official, he asked about his application.

“She told him it was conveniently lost because he was too valuable an asset,” Norris said. “Hayat speaks seven languages.”

One of those is Pashai, which is rare. That’s key, Norris said, because Taliban forces moving from Pakistan through Afghanistan’s Nuristan Province, where Nooristani is from, hire local guides; they speak Pashai, so Pashai speakers are very valuable to the military for translating the Taliban guides’ radio traffic. At the time Nooristani first applied for an SIV, Norris continued, a lot of battles still were being fought and the U.S. military needed Nooristani.

“To have someone with Hayat’s skills is important,” Norris said. “I get it.”

But he doesn’t agree with it. He said the SIV program was put in place to bring as many as 1,500 Afghan translators to the States annually because their devotion to the U.S. puts their lives and those of their families in danger. However, only 35 interpreters received SIVs in 2011 and 50 in 2012, according to The Daily Beast; Norris wants to know why.

Nooristani’s path to freedom has been full of obstacles, and Norris has been a human bulldozer, removing one obstacle at a time.

See Wednesday's Times Sentinel for the full story.