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Veterans And Interpreters Make Case For Exception To Immigration Ban


There's been a lot of opposition to the president's executive order that temporarily banned refugees from the U.S. as well as people from seven majority Muslim countries. Some of that criticism has come from military veterans. Some vets say Trump's ban is too broad and that it affects a group of people they say deserves entry to the U.S., people who risk their lives to help U.S. armed forces overseas. Today, a group of veterans and interpreters are on Capitol Hill meeting lawmakers to make their case for an exception.

Andrew Slater served five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nawaf Ashur served as a military interpreter in Iraq, and he now lives here in the U.S. Andrew, Nawaf, welcome to the program.


NAWAF ASHUR: Thank you.

MCEVERS: Nawaf, what did you do for the U.S. military?

ASHUR: So I worked as interpreter for almost two years and a half from 2005 to, like, into 2007. I mean it was inside bases - military bases, outside military bases. And we will be, like - go to missions for several days and come back. I'm in this.

MCEVERS: So you were on combat missions.

ASHUR: Yeah, I was. Yeah, I was with them, yeah.

MCEVERS: Andrew, just really quickly, like, could you explain the value of interpreters like Nawaf in the field? Like, how valuable are people like him to you in the work that you do?

SLATER: Well, the U.S. military can do absolutely nothing without interpreters. They're absolutely the conduit through which we communicate and get everything done on the battlefield, off the battlefield.


SLATER: There's absolutely nothing in the counterterrorism fight that can get done without them.

ASHUR: Yeah, but they have been, and they are right now, the target for terrorists. And there is no differing between, you know, targeting a U.S. soldier or his interpreter. Actually, when I was in the mission, they will usually target the interpreter as the first one because they thought, like, if we got the interpreters, we will get them.

MCEVERS: Yeah, so Andrew, is that common - that, you know, interpreters and people who worked with U.S. forces - that they themselves face threats and repercussions for doing that work?

SLATER: Absolutely. In Iraq and especially Afghanistan, you're kind of marked after you've done that sort of work and have to be careful about your past. When ISIS came into Sinjar, they were specifically looking for people that used to be interpreters for American forces. So it's a risk that every interpreter that worked with the U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan - they all face concerns about people knowing that they did that job in the past.

MCEVERS: Nawaf, you have a green card. You live here in the States. What kind of vetting process did you have to go through to come here?

ASHUR: So I started applying 2014 - August 2014. And it, like, took a year to get approved from somethings called chief of mission. And then I waited another six more months for the interview to be determined and then almost six more months to get, you know, the security clearance and everything - you know, medical tests and everything. And it took me, like, I would say two years and some months.

MCEVERS: Both of you have, you know, risked your lives to fight for American interests. But are you concerned, you know, that someone could slip through the cracks, that there is someone who could get through the process and end up here in the United States with the intent to do harm?

SLATER: So I think that we have a very robust vetting process in place, probably the most robust in the world. I think if we want to improve it, we can certainly do that. But this isn't something that does that. And we have to think about the other repercussions.

And what I would point out to people is that immigrants from these seven countries who've come to the United States over the last few decades are an essential part of our counterterrorism team. They keep us safe. So the fact that we have people that know these countries and are fiercely loyal to the United States has been invaluable to us since 9/11.

So I don't agree with the idea that there's any kind of counterterrorist value added to a blanket ban. And I think it's cutting off so many relationships that are essential to us 'cause we still have interests in all seven of these nations. And we're still involved in combat operations and five of them. So we have a responsibility to remain engaged, and part of that is having relationships with these countries. And that's built by visas and residencies.

MCEVERS: Andrew Slater served five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nawaf Ashur is an Iraqi citizen who interpreted for the U.S. military and now lives here in the States. Thanks to both of you.

SLATER: Thank you.

ASHUR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.