On my second tour in Iraq, one of our Iraqi interpreters (we’ll call him Jim) told me an astounding story. Jim had recently gone home for a week of vacation only to discover his job was not as secret as he thought. A group of men had approached his little brother outside of school and said they knew Jim was working for the Americans, and if he did not quit they would kill Jim.
There was no reason to believe this was an idle threat. Most interpreters covered their faces when they went out on patrol with us because reprisals from terrorist groups were a constant fear. The terrorists considered Iraqi interpreters as part of the American Army. The interpreters lived with us, ate with us, joked with us, went on patrol with us, and shared the danger with us. Then they went home and faced more danger.
We all knew the risks our interpreters took were real. When Jim told me he had received a death threat passed through his little brother, what amazed me was the calmness of it all. Jim wasn’t begging for extra security or special favors. He told the story in a “oh, by the way…” manner, as if groups of men telling his family they were going to murder him was just part of the job.
When my commanding officer asked Jim if he wanted to quit so he could lift the death threat, he was firmly against it. The United States had established a program which promised that if Iraqis worked for us for a specified period of time, they could apply to come to America. At that time, Jim was six months away from being eligible for that program, and had clearly decided that the chance to go to America was worth the death threats. And it was only a chance. Iraqis who risked their lives with us were not guaranteed entry to the United States, and the process to screen them could often take a considerable amount of time. Yet they served with us and took the risks with us anyway, with the promise we would treat them fairly and take account of their service when they asked to come to America.
There is a lot of confusion about President Trump’s recent executive order temporarily suspending some immigration from certain countries. Much of the new order allows for discretion in how it will be implemented. Whether Trump’s plan is justified or not will depend on how it is applied, and unfortunately there is too much false and misleading reporting on it at this point (for instance, it is not a Muslim ban).
But one thing should be clear from the beginning: the brave Iraqis who daily risked their lives to support us should not have their resettlement further delayed. If they served America with honor, if they have gone through the vetting and application process, then they must be allowed into the country. America must keep her word. America must keep faith with our allies. The Iraqis who helped us in war deserve no less, and American integrity and honor demands it.