Upon arriving at Sami’s home in Upper Macungie Township, a few miles west of Allentown, Kate walked with Sami to the door. When Kate returned to the car, she said Sami’s mother wanted to speak with me. I entered the sparsely furnished home to meet Sami’s mother, who was lying in a hospital bed. She had suffered terrible injuries in a car accident while driving home from a job cleaning houses. I learned shortly after this visit that Sami’s father had been executed by the Taliban in front of the family in Afghanistan, which forced Sami, her mother and four older siblings to flee and seek refuge in Pakistan — before eventually coming to the US.
In Allentown, these children struggled mightily — caring for their mother, attending school, working and paying the rent. The family moved a few times within the Parkland school district, which is among the wealthiest in Pennsylvania. My wife and a few Parkland High School families took an active interest in Sami and her family, and they helped in any way they could by providing financial resources, moral support and access to caregiver assistance.
Eventually, Sami’s family made the tough decision to move out of the expensive school district and to Philadelphia, some 60 miles away. But Sami was unhappy in her new home, and often came back to Allentown. She was bright and talented — and like many teenagers — just wanted to finish high school surrounded by her friends.
My wife took matters into her own hands and told Sami she could live with our family for her senior year — assuming her mother consented and approved, which she did. In the spring of 2012, my family sat proudly with Sami’s family at the commencement ceremony and together celebrated the girls’ high school graduation. The following academic year Sami began attending college. Today, Sami lives in Colorado and works as a wound care specialist. She aspires to become a doctor.
As a four-term congressman in 2012, I have never written nor spoken publicly about this experience. While some friends, neighbors and a few people in the local Muslim community were aware of it, I do not believe I ever shared with my congressional colleagues that an Afghan refugee lived with my family for nearly a year. An elected official has a public and private life. Sometimes it’s difficult to separate the two. In this case, my family drew a bright line.
But I felt compelled to speak up now. While watching the horrifying images and human suffering from now Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in recent days, I thought a great deal about Sami, her family and so many others who have their own terrifying stories.
The world needs American leadership — and it is a better place because of it. With tens of thousands of troops in Europe, Japan and South Korea, was it too great a sacrifice to maintain a light military footprint along with our allies in Afghanistan to keep terrorists — and those who harbor them — on their heels?
The world bears witness to the unfolding events in Afghanistan at this very moment. If anybody wants to help Afghans in their moment of dire need, sign the CARE petition, calling for the safe exit of Afghans, especially women, who worked with the US over these two decades.
As we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11, let us reflect upon the extraordinary sacrifice of American military and civilian personnel and their contributions to the advancement of human freedom. I will forever remember my time spent on trips to visit America’s finest in Bagram, Kabul, Kandahar, Helmand and the Arghandab River Valley. They sacrificed a great deal so that others might never experience the horrors of families like Sami’s.