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Those we left behind

Jennifer Cervantes and her husband, Juan, run their law firm out of a restored building in historic downtown Fredericksburg, Va. The couple, both graduates of Liberty University Law School, have had an eclectic client roster handling immigration cases, businesses, and nonprofits—but the crisis in Afghanistan has overwhelmed their practice.

Cervantes found herself yanked into the unfolding drama of the U.S. withdrawal operation out of the Kabul International Airport in August after 20 years of war. A client asked for her help getting out his three brothers, all of whom worked for the U.S. government in Afghanistan. Cervantes dropped everything to put together paperwork for the State Department so the men and their families could board flights out.

The firm began to help other Afghans. Moments after the Aug. 26 bombing at the Kabul airport that killed 13 U.S. service members and hundreds of Afghans, Cervantes was on the phone directing 18 women and their children to find another way into the airport. They climbed over dead bodies to reach another entry, and for the next 35 hours their Virginia attorney stayed with them by phone. At gate after gate, U.S. soldiers turned them away even with papers in hand and their names on flight manifests. One of the women, 20 weeks pregnant, became sick from exhaustion and dehydration. She later miscarried. (The women remain in Afghanistan.)

Shocked by what she saw unfolding—and the way the U.S. exit on Aug. 31 stranded thousands deserving American protection—Cervantes took on hundreds of cases. Afghan Americans with friends or family left behind gathered outside Cervantes’ office each morning. They came from all over Virginia, some traveling 150 miles or more, she said, “begging for help.”

Since then, Cervantes has worked on nothing else. On one Sunday in September, she received 400 new cases. Four days later, she had 600 more. She and her husband have three small children who practically live at the office: “My 7-year-old knows more about what’s going on in Afghanistan than most Americans do.”

Since U.S. military evacuations from Afghanistan ceased, the Biden administration and many media outlets have downplayed the number of American citizens and other vulnerable allies left behind. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in September, “We had about 100 American citizens in Afghanistan who told us that they wish to leave the country.” The New York Times reported “around 1,000 people” were stuck, counting U.S. residents plus Afghans with visas who legally could travel to the United States and other countries.

Read more at World Magazine

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