Hematullah Azizi and Adam Malaty-Uhr call each other "brothers," forever bonded by their missions in Afghanistan.
During his tour with the U.S. Army National Guard in an eastern province of the country, Malaty-Uhr trained local police and relied heavily on Azizi, an Afghan interpreter who became his mentor and counselor.
"Hemi was as much a member of my team as any American who was with us," Malaty-Uhr said.
Their reunion at O'Hare International Airport in 2014 came after Azizi waited about five years to obtain a special immigrant visa. The program established by Congress allows Afghans who helped American troops to resettle in the United States.
"In that moment, I knew every member of my team had finally made it home," Malaty-Uhr said.
The two joined a panel of speakers hosted by U.S. Rep. Bill Foster at a Naperville mosque Monday and expressed concern about the fate of other interpreters seeking to come here.
Their "lives are in danger," and they face threats from the Taliban and other groups because of their work with the U.S. military, Malaty-Uhr said.
"They need our help. They stood up for us, for this great nation, for this great country," Azizi said. "But now is the time that we can stand up for them and help them out."
Foster, a Naperville Democrat, led the discussion on immigration amid uncertainty over the future of President Donald's Trump executive order that temporarily blocked refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations from coming into the country. A federal appeals court last week upheld a ruling by a judge in Washington state to halt the order.
"The fight in the courts is not over, and it is too early to predict final victory," Foster told the gathering at the Islamic Center of Naperville. "The president has very broad authority to restrict immigration, but he does not have the authority to do that from the point of view of religious bigotry. And that is the constitutional line he can never cross."
Foster criticized the rollout of the initial order as a "complete disaster" that caused confusion in major airports. In one high-profile case, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, a former Iraqi translator for the U.S. military, was detained for questioning and later released from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
After calls from the Pentagon, the Trump administration announced earlier this month that Iraqis who received special immigrant visas were exempt from the ban.
Malaty-Uhr, a 34-year-old from Naperville, now serves on the advisory board for No One Left Behind, a group that helps combat interpreters and special immigrant visa holders resettle in the United States.
More than 13,000 Afghans and their families are waiting to get the visas, according to the State Department. Congress last December authorized an additional 1,500 visas for the program.
Azizi, who also volunteers for No One Left Behind, nearly lost hope while he waited for his visa. He secured the recommendations of senior military officials who vouched for his application and went through rounds of background checks. He also had the support of Malaty-Uhr, a grandson of a Jewish refugee who escaped Poland.
"We didn't came from the same mother, but we are brothers forever until we die because he saved my life," Azizi said.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report