Almost a year and a half have passed since my story of protest was covered, and in response, the Taliban robbed me of the country I love. For 15 days, I watched from my window as they changed my beloved city. I went and talked to them face to face, but they would not listen. They put a gun to me and said, “She should not be coming out of her home.” But I defied them and took to the streets along with other young Afghans to raise my voice in support of women’s rights and the thriving Afghan civil society we had built together over the last 20 years.

I built my life in Afghanistan, I worked for Afghanistan, my goals were set in Afghanistan, and through my foundation, I was helping orphans in Afghanistan. Yet because I raised my voice against the Taliban, I became a target. They raided my home and threatened my family. Fearing for our lives, I left my family behind and joined over 76,000 other desperate Afghans on military planes, carrying the dreams from our country.

Crystal Bayat protests against the Taliban in Afghanistan. | Meraj Bayat

We evacuated to the misery in Qatar where we faced rigorous vetting and torturous waiting, then on to more vetting in military bases in the United States. I eventually relocated to Salt Lake City, where people are kind and treat me like family. There is so much beauty here, and I am slowly finding inner peace as I try to recover from the deep pain and loss I have suffered. 

Some people think coming here is an opportunity, but despite the warm welcome I have received, for me it is not an opportunity. I have lost everything. The reason I came was to keep this voice, to show the Taliban that we women will not give up on fighting for our rights.

Opinion: Taliban continues its erosion of women’s rights
Escape from Afghanistan

I began my life here with a job driving a bus, but now have received a scholarship to earn a second graduate degree at Carnegie Mellon, while supporting women’s rights in Afghanistan through my foundation, and working remotely with the Department of Defense to recruit Afghan evacuees to become skilled manufacturing workers.

Though I have been approved for asylum status, many Afghan evacuees like me only have temporary humanitarian parole legal status that expires after two years. And if we go back to Afghanistan, the Taliban will kill us. We must accept that we cannot go. Living in this legal uncertainty makes important tasks, such as securing housing and car loans, close to impossible. We need permanency in order to fully find peace.

Crystal Bayat talks to a Talib soldier while protesting against the Taliban in Afghanistan. | Khaled Nora

This is an issue only Congress can fix. In August 2022, bipartisan groups in the House and Senate introduced a solution in the Afghan Adjustment Act. Modeled on historical legislation for other wartime evacuees, it paves the way to permanent legal residency for thousands of newly arrived Afghans like myself. It would allow us to gain full access to the promise America made. The bill had strong bipartisan support, including cosponsors Sens. Moran, R-Kan.Shaheen, D-N.H.Wicker, R-Miss., and Leahy, D-Vt. Among the bill’s champions are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and multiple veterans and faith organizations. We must reintroduce the bill in the current Congress and pass it as soon as possible.

I was raised in a democratic era during the U.S. occupation. We stood alongside the United States in the mission to create a prosperous and thriving democracy. Afghan women were the warriors, the fighters for democracy. We earned university degrees, built businesses, served as civil servants, and believed in the promise of democracy. I never felt what it feels like to not be allowed to go to school, but the Taliban’s arrival changed all that. Now I join my tears with those girls as they are weeping and crying at the doors of their schools, asking for the basic right of education.

America made us a promise that if we stood by them, they would stand by us. While America’s military involvement in Afghanistan is over, the job is not done. America must keep its promise and pass the Afghan Adjustment Act, allowing us to feel fully welcome and secure in our new homes. Otherwise, we will continue to suffer with uncertainty, and at worst, have to go back to a country where the rulers are dedicated to making the country hell on earth for us. Please do not forget my people and my beloved country. We deserve better. We deserve the passage of an Afghan Adjustment Act.

Crystal Bayat is an Afghan social activist and human rights advocate known for her protests against the Taliban takeover. She is now living in Utah.

Crystal Bayat, an Afghan social activist, human rights advocate and founder of the Crystal Bayat Foundation, shows the former flag of Afghanistan, which is now seen as a symbol of resistance against the Taliban, at home in West Jordan on Wednesday, June 28, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News