Immigration

Veterans fight to help military interpreters hurt by Trump’s immigration ban.

Jan 31, 2017

U.S. Army Captain Matt Zeller’s life was saved by his interpreter Janis when he came under fire from Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. Janis shot and killed two insurgents who had flanked Matt and after that Janis and his family became a target of the Taliban. In total, Janis served as an interpreter with U.S. forces for seven years — and he almost wasn’t given the Special Immigration Visa (SIV) promised to interpreters like him.

The already slow and complicated visa process (it took Janis over two years to receive his SIV) has now come to a complete halt for interpreters thanks to the immigration ban put in place by Donald Trump’s executive order.

The ban, which bars admission to the United States for people from seven majority-Muslim countries, is drawing criticism from veterans who say translators play a key role in keeping our military safe and deserve a fair chance to immigrate to the United States.

Matt and fellow veterans are hoping they can convince President Trump to exempt wartime translators from the ban. His organization No One Left Behind, founded to help military interpreters receive their visas and start new lives in the United States, has just launched a petition on Change.org that already has more than 9,000 signatures.

 

After helping our troops, these interpreters and their families often become targets of the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Janis was no different. His name was added to a kill list and Matt had to fight hard to get him to the United States — he even started a Change.org petition that was signed by over 100,000 people supporting Janis’ SIV application.

Matt believes that banning interpreters from receiving visas will have long term impact on the U.S. military’s ability to find translators.

If we commit to this, we will permanently harmed our national security. Why would any potential ally ever trust America to keep its word again? It pains me to think how many US soldiers will now die in future wars because we couldn’t recruit the local support that is often the difference between life and death. — U.S. Army Captain Matt Zeller

The threat interpreters and their families face is real. In 2014, I helped Matt share the story of Mohammad Usafi, an Afghani translator who served alongside U.S. Marines. For helping the United States, the Taliban captured, tortured, and murdered Mohammad’s father. Three years later they kidnapped his three-year old brother and held him for ransom — it cost his family their life savings to get him back.

Adrian Kinsella, one of the veterans Mohammad worked closely with, spent three-and-a-half years fighting to get Mohammad safely to the United States. But it took multiple organizations including IRAP, the Pat Tillman Foundation, the aid of 13 U.S. Congressional offices, and a petition with over 90,000 signatures to get humanitarian parole applications approved for Mohammad’s family, including his mother and younger siblings, so that they could come to the United States.

Change.org has become a popular place for veterans to find support for their interpreters. No One Left Behind has a movement page that makes it easy for veterans to find and launch their own petitions. Over the next few days its likely that thousands more people will join No One Left Behind’s campaign to exempt interpreters from the ban.

You can add your name to their petition here.