Trump's Travel Ban Halts Visas for Iraqis Who Helped US Military

Jan 31, 2017

Among the people affected by President Trump's temporary ban on travel from seven predominantly Muslim nations are hundreds of Iraqis who helped the U.S. during wartime.

In 2008, the U.S. allowed interpreters, and others who had worked with American forces, to apply for a Special Immigrant Visa. But the president's recent order banning travel from Iraq has halted their applications.

"It means the difference between life and death," said Mac McEachin, national security policy associate at the International Refugee Assistance Project. His group helps Iraqis and those from other countries apply for visas.

According to U.S. State Department data, the U.S. issued more than 1,500 visas in 2016 to Iraqis who worked with the U.S., and their family members. McEachin said an estimated 700-800 more are still awaiting approval.

"We leave these guys at extraordinary risk from the Taliban or Al Qaeda," McEachin said. "And not only them, but their wives and children."

Kelsey Campbell, an Air Force veteran who served in Iraq, said her experience working with local interpreters changed her own view of Iraqis and refugees. Often the interpreters' roles extended beyond translating to reading the cultural mood of a situation and providing advice to the military, she said.

"Many of them have been able to warn of impending dangers and have saved American lives," said Campbell, also an advocate with Veterans for American Ideals Initiative, a nonpartisan group.