PROVIDENCE — At times, he sounded like any local shopkeeper — talking about how much he borrowed to launch the business, how he needs to add more inventory, how he works 11 hours a day, seven days a week.
Aminullah Faqiry opened the door to the Afghan Super Store, a new market inside an Elmwood Avenue storefront emblazoned with the black, red, and green of the Afghan flag.
He walked between the shelves, pointing out the halal meat prepared in accordance with Islamic law — including beef, chicken, lamb, and goat — plus Afghan bread and rice, and everything from hookah pipes to HoHo snack cakes.
“I want to have a little bit of everything in the store,” he said, “so when they come in, whether they are native Americans or from other countries, I want them to find what they are looking for.”
But Faqiry’s focus soon shifted from the aisles of his store to the halls of power in Washington, D.C.
Not long ago, this shopkeeper was a front-line Afghan interpreter who worked with the US military and State Department for nearly 12 years. He came to Rhode Island with his family after US troops withdrew from Afghanistan in August 2021. His family was the first of more than 250 Afghans the federal government has sent to Rhode Island since then. In January, Governor Daniel J. McKee recognized him during his 2023 State of the State address.
Standing beside his shop counter, Faqiri called for President Joe Biden to help the Afghans who were “left behind” after helping the United States battle the Taliban.
“My wish is to one day meet President Biden and tell him to his face that I served the US government and bring to his attention that the people who served the US government in Afghanistan are still waiting to get out of the danger you left them to,” he said. “Tell the immigration department to get them out of the danger zone.”
Faqiri also called for Congress to pass the bipartisan Afghan Adjustment Act to provide a path to legal permanent residency for 76,000 Afghan evacuees and to pave the way for most to receive a green card.
“I call on the United States Senate, the Congress, the president, and people who know the importance of this Afghan Adjustment Act, to please go ahead and accept this and let the Afghan people get permanent residence,” he said.
Congress dropped the Afghan provision from its $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill despite bipartisan support and the advocacy of veterans groups who said the United States made commitments to Afghan partners, including interpreters for American military units. Advocates blamed Senator Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican who has opposed the Afghan Adjustment Act over security concerns and said he and other senators could not support it “as long as the vetting process is not improved.”
While opponents are raising security concerns, Faqiry said Afghan evacuees were vetted, and he said, “There are bad people and good people in every community. So do not think of all Afghans as bad.”
“Afghans are hard working people and they will be a good addition to the population of the United States,” he said. “They could make a difference if they are given a chance.”
US Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, is supportive of the Afghan Adjustment Act and hopes it can pass, Reed spokesman Chip Unruh said.
Faqiry also called for President Biden and Congress to expedite the Special Immigrant Visa process so that more Afghans who helped the United States can come here. Although he first applied nearly seven years ago, he said he remains stuck in the final stages of securing a Special Immigrant Visa, and he is eager to get green cards for himself and his family.
“I am hard working man, not a terrorist,” Faqiry said. “I am trying to contribute to the United States economy. I started a business. I am paying taxes.”
He said he is confident he will receive approval since he has a documented record of assisting the United States, but he urged the government to end the enormous backlog of Special Immigration Visa applications and to help those who remain behind.
Every day, Faqiri said, he receives calls from Afghans eager to come to the United States.
“They are desperate for their lives,” he said. “They are desperate for food and for daily needs because they are no longer accepted on the government level. They are looked down on.”
He estimated that 3,000 to 4,000 people who fought the Taliban or helped the US military in some way were “left behind.”
While the Taliban have claimed that “everyone is forgiven” and that the group won’t seek revenge, Faqiry said the reality on the street is much different. He said many Afghan soldiers and interpreters have been killed since the Taliban seized power.
“The Taliban are illiterate people and if they say we have announced national forgiveness, they just say that by words and they don’t implement that,” he said. “A Taliban fighter does his own judgment. A street soldier is judge and jury.”
Faqiry said there is no doubt he would be killed if he returned. “I was an interpreter, and I was part of an armed group that fought the Taliban,” he said.
These days, he faces more mundane concerns.
Faqiry, who now lives in Cranston, acknowledged that running a small business has been difficult at times. “I love it, to be honest with you, but it has its own challenges,” he said.
The Afghan Super Store is the only halal market in Providence, he said, but it has not caught on yet and is losing money. “It’s a new store,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know about it, and besides that, I have to add more inventory.”
Faqiry said he hopes to hire four or five employees. “But as of now, I am not able to pay an employee,” he said. “It is just me right now.”
Despite the struggles, he said he gets a daily boost from customers.
“The people of Rhode Island have overwhelmed me with their love and their support,” Faqiry said. “Every day I get people who come to the store — real Rhode Islanders — and they support my business and at the same time, they say, ‘Thank you for your service,’ which makes me so happy. It makes me feel like I am at the best place in the world.”
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.