Zainulah Zaki, an Afghan interpreter who distinguished himself alongside US Marines in the Battle of Sangin, was denied a Special Immigrant Visa despite meeting State Department's criteria. US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jason Morrison, composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.
Zainullah “Zak” Zaki — a former Afghan interpreter who fought alongside US Marines in the Battle for Sangin — was notified last week that his application for a Special Immigrant Visa was denied.
The State Department cited “insufficient length of employment” as the reason for denial. And yet, Zaki was employed by the United States military for 23 months — nearly twice as long as the 12-month requirement. Zaki’s case gained national publicity last year when his memoir, Always Faithful, which he co-authored with Marine Corps Maj. Thomas Schueman, became an Amazon bestseller.
In August of 2021, while the Taliban seized control of Kabul amid widespread chaos, Zaki and his family managed to flee Afghanistan with the help of a team of active-duty American service members headed by Schueman. Zaki and Schueman first became friends while serving together in 2010 and they remained in touch after parting ways.
Zak posing for a photo while serving as an interpreter for 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, Sangin, Afghanistan, 2010. Photo courtesy of Thomas Schueman.
The State Department’s rejection is the latest blow in a series of setbacks Zaki has faced since he began the SIV application process over six years ago.
“We conducted our final appeal in March of this year. The response came back nine months later and it just says ‘insufficient time,’” Schueman told Coffee or Die Magazine. “I cannot begin to imagine how they're still coming to the conclusion, because some pretty basic math would reflect otherwise.”
Zaki and Schueman focused most of their book on the herculean effort to get Zaki out of Afghanistan during the chaotic US withdrawal. It was published last summer and is currently listed as an Amazon Editors' Pick and a Top 100 books of 2022.
Zaki, who survived the deadliest deployment of the Afghan War, barely escaped Afghanistan with his life. At one point in 2010, he charged and subdued an armed Taliban fighter to protect US Marines. Now, Zaki works six days a week hanging drywall at a cancer hospital in Texas.
After six years of navigating the SIV process to no avail, Schueman and Zaki do not plan on starting over again.
Zak and Schueman at Ground Zero in New York City, 2022. Photo courtesy of Thomas Schueman/Instagram.
“Neither of us have the time, energy, or faith in the program to commit any more resources,” Schueman said. “It is a real fucking tragedy and such a giant injustice that he'll never be granted the thing that he rates.”
Despite not restarting the SIV process, Zaki and Schueman plan to continue fighting. Zaki intends to file for asylum as a last resort to avoid deportation.
Schueman, who is currently serving on active duty with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, feels the recent denial is just another betrayal to America’s Afghan allies.
“Even if Zak didn't do all the heroic and exceptional things that he did in Sangin, even if he was just your standard interpreter, he would still rate an SIV according to their criteria,” Schueman said. “It's just a real shame.”
Read Next: New Book Follows Marine and His Interpreter From Afghan War’s Deadliest Battle to Dramatic Escape From Kabul
Mac Caltrider is a senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. He served in the US Marine Corps and is a former police officer. Caltrider earned his bachelor’s degree in history and now reads anything he can get his hands on. He is also the creator of Pipes & Pages, a site intended to increase readership among enlisted troops. Caltrider spends most of his time reading, writing, and waging a one-man war against premature hair loss.
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