The family reunion between two children from Afghanistan and their aunt in Northern Virginia hit another snag.
After nine straight days of visits Ferishta Stanekzai says she hasn’t seen her niece and nephew in person for almost a week.
Faisal, 13, and Mina, 7, are in the custody of Youth For Tomorrow, a residential and counseling center for at-risk teens and unaccompanied immigrant minors in Bristow. The siblings escaped Kabul after the suicide bombing near the airport killed their mother.
Stanekzai has only been able to speak to them on the phone. She says they’re separated and scared.
“When I talk with Mina, she was telling me that, ‘Aunt, where are you? I’m so scared here … Why I’m not allowed to talk with my dad and brothers,’” Stanekzai tearfully recounted.
Brothers John and Tom Bradley are retired U.S. service members who worked hard to get the kids evacuated from Afghanistan only to have their efforts stymied by government red tape.
“Children who have been through a traumatic event and been with their aunt and grandparents for days, now they can’t see anybody they know? It makes no sense. So I do think that it’s quite a bureaucratic thing,” John Bradley said.
Officials at Youth For Tomorrow said they’re following federal guidelines, which can change suddenly and delay reunification.
In its residential settings, kids are separated by gender and sometimes age. In-person visits have been curtailed due to the pandemic and other health concerns.
The Bradley brothers and Stanekzai have reached out to members of Congress and an attorney to speed up the reunification process.
In the meantime, they hope to secure a waiver allowing more contact between Stanekzai and the kids
“We are not trying to change anything; we just want things to be done in an orderly, expeditious way," John Bradley said.
“I am confident that the long-term resolution of this is going to be that that family gets reunited living with Ferishta,” Tom Bradley said. “I want the long term to be Monday."
Stanekzai just wants her family to finally be together. For her, solving this means less red tape and more compassion
“I think, like, the humanity is so lost," she said
Youth For Tomorrow said it’s their responsibility to safely release undocumented immigrant minors to the appropriate sponsor but it’s up to the government to decide when and whom that is.