CHARLOTTE — Standing beside 90 fellow U.S. citizens, tears came to Ziaulhaq Ghafoori’s eyes.
"That was like a dream and to me, a dream came true," he told Channel 9 after a naturalization ceremony in Charlotte.
Ghafoori's road to citizenship has been a long one.
Originally from Afghanistan, he worked for the U.S. Army special forces as an interpreter on the front lines for 14 years.
It's a role he was inspired to take after witnessing the Taliban regime take over when he was a child.
"I was looking, watching seeing that Taliban are beating men and women on the street, and they were not letting any females go to school," he said, "I was thinking, ‘One day, if I grow up, I will fight against these guys and from that day, I had it in my heart."
But when U.S. troops began leaving Afghanistan, he said it wasn't safe for him, his wife and their children.
"I decided to take my family and get out of there because our life was in danger in Afghanistan, especially for those allies that worked with the U.S. Army,” Ghafoori said.
That was in 2014.
Ghafoori came to America with a special immigrant visa because of his service, but he didn’t have much more than that.
His family was living in a homeless shelter at one point.
Eventually, he connected with a former captain who helped his family.
As became a U.S. citizen Thursday and said he's always thinking of his fellow interpreters, who are still struggling to come to America and get their citizenship.
"It is a long process, especially these days, and it’s getting harder,” he said. “Those guys, they took a bullet for this country and for their country, and their lives are in danger, right now. We cannot leave those guys.”
Ghafoori started an organization, Interpreting Freedom Foundation, to help support and guide others like him going through the immigration process.
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