JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Hellai Noorzai is a strong, independent career woman.
Qualities that are admired here in the U.S. but for a certain group in Noorzai’s homeland, those very qualities also made her a target.
It wasn’t long before she started receiving threats, that only got more intense as time went on.
“What would those threats say?” asked Lorena Inclán.
“‘We know what are you doing’, ‘where are you working’. The last one which I still remember reading it, they were like ‘I know where is your daughter’s daycare’,” she said.
She decided that day, she had to leave her native Afghanistan.
She was nine months pregnant at the time.
Making her even more of a target, was the fact that she worked with the U.S. embassy.
The U.S. granted her, her husband and their two kids a special immigrant visa or SIV, given only to Afghans or Iraqis who were employed on behalf of the U.S.
“I didn’t really want to leave my country because I knew it that if I leave my country, I have to start everything from zero,” said Noorzai.
Five years later, she’s now a program manager at Catholic Charities Jacksonville helping to resettle refugee families just like hers.
And she’s about to get a lot busier.
President Biden is now proposing to resettle 125,000 refugees starting next fiscal year.
A significant increase from his predecessor.
Associate director of Catholic Charities Jacksonville, Matt Schmitt, said his team also helps arriving families learn English and American culture, with the goal of self-sufficiency.
“Gave us hope that we were going to be able to again return to the necessary work of welcoming refugees into our country, helping them to begin a new life.,” said Schmitt.
But before refugees even step foot in the U.S. they go through a long and meticulous screening process.
“Takes a minimum of 18 months in some cases it takes an excess of 24 months, so these refugees are screened probably better than any other entrant into our country,” said Schmitt.
Not a day goes by that Noorzai doesn’t think about her mom whom she had to leave behind.
“I wish that she could reunite with me soon,” said Noorzai.
Until that happens, she finds joy in simple freedoms she didn’t have back home.
And she wants people, especially those who have never been in her shoes, to know this about refugees.
“They lost everything and then they have to leave their country and come here. They are not coming to the United States just for a vacation,” she said.
President Biden still needs to consult congress before raising the cap for refugees.
The number is only a target and does not mean the U.S. is required to receive an exact number.
© 2021 Cox Media Group