A former combat translator who worked alongside U.S. troops in Afghanistan and is credited with saving the lives of at least five soldiers while the Taliban sought death to become a U.S. citizen on Monday.
Janis Shinwari and her two children became Americans in a ceremony chaired by Ken Cuccinelli, the acting undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
"During his service, he saved the lives of five American soldiers," Cuccinelli said during the ceremony. "That is not something that many of us can say."
"My children were very excited last night before going to sleep," Shinwari told Fox News. "They asked me 'Dad, if we get up tomorrow morning we will be American citizens'. I said 'Yes, you should be American citizens tomorrow.'
Shinwari worked for eight years alongside Army troops while facing threats from Taliban militants for their collaboration with US forces. Authorities said it helped save the lives of five American soldiers, including Matt Zeller.
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Zeller, then captain, and other troops were ambushed by Taliban fighters in 2008 while in the Afghan province of Ghazni. At some point, two Taliban militants attempted to sneak up behind him with the intention of killing.
"I saw Matt Zeller and he was alive in a ditch," said Shinwari. "And there were two Taliban behind him to kill him, and I shot those two Taliban."
Zeller recalled the near-death experience at a 2017 conference with Shinwari at Hamilton College in New York.
"He has given me the gift of life," said Zeller. "I didn't even know his name."
"The translators protected us better than our personal weapons," he added. "He is the true veteran in the room, not me."
Shinwari's work did not go unnoticed by the Taliban and he was put on the terror group's death list, making him a marked man.
"I was always afraid that if they caught me they would kill me," he told Dana Perino during an appearance Monday in "The Daily Briefing."
Like many translators in combat zones, Shinwari applied for a special immigrant visa, which was designed to give asylum to those who work with US troops abroad in the US The programs authorize 4,000 visas annually, but have been riddled with long waiting times.
A recent State Department report suggested the order book has worsened because only one person at the agency oversees the program.
"It took me three years to get my visa," said Shinwari. "This process is going back, as much longer, and most of them [applicants] were killed by the Taliban while awaiting their visa."
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A nonprofit organization started by military veterans, No One Left Behind, advocates bringing to the US interpreters who worked alongside US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The organization supports interpreters with donations as they restart their lives.
Shinwari is a co-founder of the group and sits on its board of directors. He currently works with a defense contractor who provides rescue beacons for missing sailors.