Refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan seek new lives in California

Farhad Kareem Faraj and his wife eat mahshi, stuffed vegetables Iraqi-style, in their sparse one-bedroom apartment on Watt Avenue, and try to map a future in the country of their dreams.

Jwana Mohammed Shalih Hussein, Faraj's wife, was a physical therapist in Iraq. To help her find work here, she's taking English classes at Sacramento's Winterstein Adult Center with about 50 other Iraqi refugees.

Faraj, 35, doesn't need English classes — he spent four years as a translator for U.S. troops in Iraq, going door-to-door in search of Iraqi resisters trying to expel the Americans.

He's getting restless applying for low-end jobs and itching for new action. "It's dangerous, but I miss the fun of going after terrorists," he said. "Maybe I'll go to Afghanistan."

The couple's experience reflects the challenges facing a new wave of elite Iraqi and Afghan refugees who have fled to Sacramento from their war-ravaged nations. Many had received death threats or watched friends kidnapped for ransom or killed.

Some say they were walking targets for Iraqi insurgents and terrorists, while others have long dreamed of starting a new life in America. But making their dreams come true in tough economic times has proved far more difficult than they imagined.

In recent years, more than 150 Iraqi and Afghan refugees have been resettled in Sacramento. They include doctors and engineers, security experts and scientists. They've been joined by Faraj and several dozen others who earned Special Immigrant Visas based on their service as interpreters, advisers and military instructors on the front lines — jobs that put a price on their heads.

Even in Sacramento's tight job market, their resumes stand out.

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