Aug 5, 2021 - Podcasts

Left behind in Afghanistan

The Biden administration is close to meeting its accelerated deadline for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. But it's leaving behind thousands of translators and interpreters who are waiting for special immigrant visas designated for people who worked with US troops. Najib is one of those translators in limbo.

  • Plus, the Mexican government sues U.S. gunmakers.
  • And, vaccine passports come to New York City.

Guests: Afghan translator, Najib; Telemundo and Axios' Marina Franco; Axios' Tina Reed and Ina Fried.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Thursday, August 5th. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what you need to know today: the Mexican government sues US gunmakers. Plus - a new mandate for vaccine passports in New York City. But first, today’s One Big Thing: an Afghan translator’s struggle to come to America.

The Biden administration is close to meeting its accelerated deadline for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. But it’s leaving behind thousands of translators and interpreters who are waiting for special immigrant visas designated for people who worked with US troops. On Monday, the State Department said it was expanding eligibility for refugee status for at-risk Afghans. The change came as more than 200 Afghans who worked with US troops in some capacity arrived in Virginia. But there are thousands others still waiting. Najib is one of those translators in limbo. He worked with US special forces in Afghanistan for more than a decade. And he's been waiting since 2017 for a chance for him - and his family - to come to the US. For their safety, we're using just his first name. He spoke to me yesterday via Skype from Afghanistan. And I asked him what he thought when he first heard that the US was going to be definitely withdrawing from the region.

NAJIB: I thought thinking about my family, about me and my family safety. The city is going down and situation getting worse.

NIALA: When you say you're worried for your family’s safety, what exactly are you worried about?

NAJIB: The Taliban, they are going after each person who worked with they use government and they're going up to them and they kill them. So that's, my worry about my family.

NIALA: Najib started the visa application process for him and his family a decade ago - in 2011.

NAJIB: So I got approval in 2017. And since then I've been waiting for them. I did my interview in 2019, I submit my passports in 2019 in August. And this last June, they returned my passport and that didn't do anything.

NIALA: Najib got back his family's passports with no visas in them, and no word on when he could expect them. Part of the problem, he said, is that he wasn't able to speak with any U.S. officials, only Afghan embassy employees who didn't have any news for him.

NAJIB: That doesn't tell me anything. I sent like four, five emails in the last couple of weeks, and I didn't get any response from the U.S. embassy in Kabul. On August 2nd, my case was updated. But there is no news.

NIALA: Is there a plan if you don't hear back from the U.S. soon?

NAJIB: I have to move somewhere from here because in this place is, everybody knows me. I worked with the special forces with the U.S. Army. And I have to move somewhere else. This country or somewhere else to other countries cause the situation in here and Afghanistan is getting worse and worse, day by day. So if, if I got trouble or I got killed, so I am worrying about my family. So I don't know what we will be their future.

NIALA: I hope that you can stay safe. I wish you the best for you and your family.

NAJIB: Thank you very much.

NIALA: When we reached out to The State Department about this interview, a spokesperson told us that they have been adding staff at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and in Washington, D.C. to address the delays and backlog. We'll keep checking in with Najib and his family about their visas.

NIALA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds from Mexico City with the latest on a lawsuit against American gun manufacturers.


NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. Here's a stat that caught our eye this week. A gun manufactured in the U.S. is more likely to be used to murder a Mexican citizen than an American citizen. That's according to a lawsuit filed this week by the Mexican government, against several major U.S. gun makers saying lax American laws are letting illegal guns over the border. Marina Franco is a reporter for Telemundo and she writes the Axios Latino newsletter. Marina, that stat we cited is so... crazy. How can American guns be responsible for more murders in Mexico?

MARINA FRANCO: So, the Mexican foreign affairs office estimates that over 2.5 million weapons manufactured in the U.S. have made it into Mexican territory in the last decade. And that's because the greatest demand on the Mexican side is from criminal organizations and cartels.

NIALA: And so what exactly is this lawsuit alleging...if they're ending up in cartel hands illegally, what does that have to do with the U.S. gun manufacturer?

MARINA: Well, the argument is twofold. The first part is that gun manufacturers should do more to monitor when they know that gun sellers are purchasing sort of underhanded to straw purchasers, that then just move those weapons into cartel members hands. And then the second argument is... that gun manufacturers are liable because of how they market their weapons. So for example, they speak of a special edition Colt pistol that was designed to be allusive to Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. And the argument being made is that those types of weapons are thought out to be sort of status items that cartel members will want to buy.

NIALA: What are the chances that something will come of this lawsuit?

MARINA: So it could very easily just become a symbolic act. Because of course there is an act in the U. S. that stops lawsuits and civil actions from prospering against gun manufacturers for how their products are used. However, other lawsuits, including one related to the Sandy Hook shooting, have prospered by arguing that the problem is not how those pistols are used, but how they're marketed. So there is a possibility.

NIALA: Marina Franco is a reporter for Telemundo and she writes the Axios Latino newsletter. Thanks Marina.

MARINA: Thank you so much for having me.

NIALA: And now to some COVID news. This week, New York City became the first major American city to issue a vaccine mandate for restaurants, gyms, and other indoor activities. Axios’ healthcare editor, Tina Reed, is here to catch us up quick. Hey Tina, how's this going to work?

TINA REED: So in New York City, they are going to either use the statewide Excelsior pass, or New York city also just rolled out its own app. Or they're going to say, you can just show your CDC paper card. And that will be your proof of vaccination that you can, in fact, go in.

NIALA: How have we seen other American cities use something similar to check vaccine requirements for Americans?

TINA: We've seen some states using different vaccine, um, verification technology or testing verification before travelers are able to arrive...I'm thinking in particular about Hawaii, which has been using that-that sort of technology for a while. And we've also seen major employers, so talking about the kind of employers that literally have tens of thousands of employees, and they might have individuals traveling from building to building and they need to be able to quickly, um, move them through. They're also looking at different technologies to be able to use, uh, basically mandate vaccines and make sure everybody can move through quickly.

NIALA: Tina, what do you think we're missing if we're focusing the conversations so much on vaccine passports, when we're thinking about stopping the spread of COVID?

TINA: So we can't forget about some of the other public health measures that have been so valuable in this pandemic. Tools such as contact tracing, regular testing, just... mask wearing. If you are using a vaccine passport system, it may give people a false sense of security without taking into account that, you know, we do have breakthrough infections.

NIALA: Tina Reed is Axios’ healthcare editor. She also writes the daily Axios Vitals newsletter. Thanks, Tina.

TINA: Thank you, Niala.

NIALA: Our Olympics correspondent Ina Fried has been updating us on her adventures at the Summer Games, but today’s dispatch isn’t so much about sports as it is about friendship.

INA FRIED: Well, I was out at Ariake Urban Sports Park today for the first ever women's park skateboarding competition. [sounds of skating] And it was thrilling in and of itself, with lots of jaw dropping tricks, but what was really impressive was how much there was comradery among the eight finalists. There was this one moment, both the Brazilian athletes had a rough run. And first, the one supported the other, then the other supported the other. There was this really tender moment between American Bryce Wettstein and Australia's Poppy Olsen. And then, you know, in one of the more dramatic moments at the very end, Japan's Misugu Okamoto, who had been the top qualifier, ended up finishing fourth. And a bunch of the other athletes got together and lifted her up, literally lifted her up [sounds of cheering, “let’s go”] and hoisted her in the air.

NIALA: That’s Axios’ Ina Fried, from Tokyo.

That’s all we’ve got for you today! You can reach our team at podcasts at or reach out to me on Twitter. You can also text me at (202) 918-4893. I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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