Six students who were among a group of The Cajon Valley Union School District students stuck in Afghanistan have made it back safely to the U.S., according to a liaison working with the families.
“One of our families did arrive in the United States and are home safe. Which we are completely ecstatic about,” said Michael Serban, Director of Family and Community Engagement.
According to Serban, the family consisted of six children and two parents. There are at least 18 students from CVUSD with five other families still trying to get home.
No information on whether the family has arrived in San Diego, or how they got to the United States was released.
CVUSD said the families of the students from various schools had reported they would not able to start the school year on Aug. 17 because the children and their parents were unable to get through the throngs of people at the Kabul airport.
Thousands have been converging on the airport, desperate to escape since the Taliban seized control of the country.
“Without the relationships, our liaisons have with our families and the willingness of our district to put a family and community engagement department together, we would not have any of this," Serban said.
The families had traveled separately to Afghanistan for summer vacations to see their grandparents, cousins and other relatives. Most of the families came to the United States on a special immigrant visa after having worked for the U.S. government or U.S. military in Afghanistan, officials said. The visa allows only the person and their spouse and children.
“Just like you and I, they had used the summer to go back to see their relatives," Superintendent David Miyashiro said. “No one felt that were going to be unsafe or unable to return.”
He added that the families are particularly scared because of the upcoming Aug. 31 deadline for the United States to end its withdrawal.
Many of the families left in early May and June, months before the crisis unfolded and the president of Afghanistan fled as the Taliban seized power, officials said.
The children range from preschoolers to high school students. Some have witnessed shootings and other violence in and around the Kabul airport in recent days, said Fraidoon Hassemi, the district’s community liaison.
Jonathan Wilcox of Issa’s office said in an email to the San Diego Union-Tribune that the congressman and his staff “were working diligently to determine the facts on the ground, any bureaucratic barriers that can be removed, and the best ways to help those stranded leave Afghanistan and return home safely."
"We won’t stop until we have answers and action,” he wrote.
Darrell Issa told NBC 7 that the rest of the children and their parents could be home by tomorrow morning. But Issa's office has also contacted the state department and the White House after learning there are several other families from the San Diego area still trying to get out.
"Initially it was three families, then six families… and it continues to grow. So, it's now dozens of people from our region. I want to make it clear, we're not worried about if they are in the 50th, or slightly over where the artificial line is, and neither is Sara Jacobs. This is for all of us to be doing," Issa said.
Sara Jacobs, CA-53, sent out a statement Wednesday night saying:
"Heartbreaking to see so many local folks, including so many kids, unable to get out of Afghanistan. My office has been working on hundreds of similar cases, and it underscores how great the need is to get American citizens, Afghan allies, and partners out."
Miyashiro said he could not provide more details since the children and their parents could be in danger.
The families have been communicating with Hassemi, an Afghan who came to the United States in 2015 with a special immigrant visa and who now works for the district. He said they have been shaken after getting caught up in the melee.
“Nobody is doing well," he said. “The situation is very horrible."
Hassemi, who is now a U.S. citizen, said he normally would have also gone back to Afghanistan over the summer so his four children could visit their grandma. But they didn't go this year because his son's passport had expired during the pandemic. He feels fortunate now for having been inconvenienced.
“What happened in Afghanistan was unexpected for everybody," he said. “Everyone was shocked that in one week everything changed."
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that as many as 1,500 Americans may be awaiting evacuation from Afghanistan.
Hassemi said the students will likely need a lot of support when they return.
“I’m sure they are going to be affected emotionally," he said, adding: “Their teachers miss them. We all miss them. We hope to see them all back to school."
Cajon Valley school board president Tamara Otero said it's been stressful too for those waiting for their return.
“It’s killing us right now," Otero told the newspaper. “We are so worried about our students that are stuck there. We’ll do the best we can to get them out.”