When I first drove from Chicago to California as a long-distance truck driver, I loved seeing America from the highway: sunsets over the Great Plains, snowfall in the Rocky Mountains, the Sierras’ jagged peaks.
I’m an Afghan refugee who arrived in the United States in September 2019, and I’m still amazed to call this beautiful country my home. I’ve been so happy to bring even a little joy to families across the nation during this difficult time and to deliver essential items to homebound Americans. With a record number of packages shipped in 2020, I’m proud to contribute to the country that saved my life.
And yet my resettlement has been bittersweet. Because the Trump administration slashed refugee admissions to just 18,000 people in 2020 — down 80% from Barack Obama’s final year in office — my wife couldn’t come with me. She remains in Afghanistan, where my family became Taliban targets for assisting the American military.
The danger she faces is real. In 2012, her brother didn’t return home from the mechanic shop we owned in Ghazni, 90 miles south of Kabul. We searched for him all night and into the next day. Finally, his body turned up outside the city. When the Taliban sent a letter saying I was next, I knew I had to leave.
The U.S. made a promise to families like mine: They’d protect us for risking our lives. The outgoing president reneged on that promise, closing America’s doors when global displacement is higher than ever: 79.5 million people worldwide.
That’s why I’m relieved President Joe Biden is raising the refugee cap to previous levels, which were over 100,000 a year before Trump took office. It’s the American thing to do, but it’s also critical as we build our way out of the recession.
At this moment, nearly 350,000 refugees, including myself, are filling essential roles in the pandemic. We start businesses at higher rates than American-born citizens, according to the think tank New American Economy. And we are committed to becoming American in every sense of the word. Most refugees eventually become citizens, naturalizing at far higher rates than other immigrants in the country.
This is absolutely my goal. As soon as my wife arrives, I’ll open a mechanic business like the one I owned in Afghanistan. My wife plans to help with operations. As soon as we’re able, we’ll start the citizenship process. After years of displacement and fear, I’m eager to put down roots.
In 2013, I fled to an Australian refugee camp, but I couldn’t move around the country freely or even work. I felt lost without my livelihood. In 2019, when I landed on American soil in Los Angeles, I couldn’t believe I was actually here. I called my wife and mother, and they both cried with tears of relief.
My first job was at an electrical supply store in Dallas. Although I was still in training, I earned “employee of the month” after just four weeks. I met friends who invited me into their homes, and I fell in love with American holidays like Thanksgiving and Independence Day.
I stayed seven months, then left to be a truck driver. I now live on the road and work as many hours as possible, saving money and preparing for my wife’s arrival. It’s hard work and long hours ― my shift is from 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day ― but I’m happy to do it.
I miss my wife daily; I haven’t seen her or my family in nearly eight years. All of them remain in danger. After the Taliban’s threats, my older brother left the country and my younger brother, a talented welder, left our shop to work at a car wash, making less than he did before.
I know my family would thrive in America. Refugees are some of the most vetted immigrants that come to the U.S. Most of us find work immediately, often in fields like manufacturing and home health care that desperately need more workers. And after 25 years in the country, refugees have a median income $14,000 higher than the American average, according to a study by NAE.
As refugees, we don’t take the freedom and opportunities in America for granted. We’re here to work hard, give back and build a better future for our families and communities.
It’s something I think about when I’m dropping off a shipment of packages. No matter the destination, I’ve driven hundreds of miles across this miraculous country to make sure the goods that American families need arrive safely. I only hope my own family can one day see the beauty of this country for themselves.
Frydon Azimi came to the U.S. from Afghanistan in 2019 and is a truck driver. He had editing assistance from New American Economy, a bipartisan research and advocacy nonprofit dedicated to bridging the political and cultural divide around immigration. The words and views expressed in this op-ed are his own.