My friend — our ally — died wait­ing to come to the U.S.

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE - By Travis Weiner

I’ve watched the court cases on Pres­i­dent Trump’s travel ban with in­ter­est, both as an army com­bat vet­eran who cares about our na­tional se­cu­rity and as a stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Colorado fo­cus­ing on im­mi­gra­tion, refugee, and asy­lum law. But I have an even more per­sonal con­nec­tion to this is­sue.

On my first de­ploy­ment to Iraq in 2005-2006, an Iraqi named Kadum Jas­sup was as­signed to my pla­toon as an in­ter­preter. We grew to like and trust Jas­sup — who we called “KJ” — and he was treated as a full-fledged mem­ber of the pla­toon. He lived with us. He car­ried an AK-47 out on pa­trol with us. He in­ter­ro­gated sus­pected in­sur­gents. He had our backs, and we had his.

Jas­sup of­ten re­turned to Bagh­dad on his days off. This was in­cred­i­bly risky given his as­so­ci­a­tion with the U.S. military, and we of­ten urged him not to go. Jas­sup al­ways re­sponded that he was not afraid and that he needed to see his fam­ily. When we re­de­ployed, Jas­sup started work­ing for the unit that re­placed us.

On my next de­ploy­ment in 2007, our for­mer lieu­tenant, now a bat­tal­ion staff of­fi­cer, sought to find Jas­sup and bring him to our new base so he could work di­rectly for him. This was not an easy task, but that’s how much Jas­sup meant to him. Jas­sup con­tin­ued his su­perb work. It was

won­der­ful to see him, and our friend­ship deep­ened. We left Jas­sup again when we re­de­ployed at the end of 2008.

I chat­ted with Jas­sup on Face­book in the fol­low­ing years. It was sur­real to talk to him the same way I would talk to some­one who lived close by. Then, in 2009, word went around the pla­toon that Jas­sup had been killed.

Jas­sup had ap­plied for a Spe­cial Im­mi­grant Visa (SIV). But his ap­pli­ca­tion had been de­layed, mak­ing a lengthy process even longer. Mean­while, Jas­sup con­tin­ued to serve the U.S. military. Dur­ing his fourth or fifth year, when he was work­ing for the 10th Moun­tain Divi­sion, a ve­hi­cle­borne im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vice det­o­nated into his con­voy, killing him.

In 2007, the Refugee Cri­sis in Iraq Act was passed. Spear­headed by the late Sen. Ed­ward Kennedy, the bi­par­ti­san law was de­signed to en­sure that Iraqis who risked their lives work­ing for the U.S. military and gov­ern­ment could seek pro­tec­tion in the United States. In ad­di­tion to con­tin­u­ing the Spe­cial Im­mi­grant Visa Pro­gram, it es­tab­lished the Direct Ac­cess Pro­gram un­der the U.S. Refugee Ad­mis­sions Pro­gram. Ap­pli­cants could ap­ply for re­set­tle­ment with­out a re­fer­ral from the U.N. High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees. How­ever, Iraqis ap­ply­ing via these means still must un­dergo all the in­tense se­cu­rity vet­ting re­quired for re­set­tle­ment of all refugees in the United States.

The Iraqi SIV pro­gram stopped ac­cept­ing ap­pli­ca­tions in 2014. To­day the Direct Ac­cess Pro­gram is the life­line for many brave Iraqis who served along­side us. Our mis­sion would not have been pos­si­ble with­out them; more U.S. ser­vice mem­bers would have died with­out their ef­forts. We owe them more than safe pas­sage to the United States — but at bare min­i­mum, we owe them that.

Now, the travel ban has gone par­tially into ef­fect. A par­tial stay by the Supreme Court has sus­pended the en­tire refugee ad­mis­sions pro­gram for 120 days. The Court granted an ex­cep­tion, how­ever: any “in­di­vid­ual seek­ing ad­mis­sion as a refugee who can cred­i­bly claim a bona fide re­la­tion­ship with a per­son or en­tity in the United States” may still be al­lowed in.

The Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion hasn’t in­di­cated that this group of Iraqis is ex­empt. But surely, serv­ing the United States gov­ern­ment, es­pe­cially at such great per­sonal cost, is a bona fide re­la­tion­ship. Iraqis who qual­ify for the Direct Ad­mis­sion Pro­gram, which is based on an in­di­vid­ual’s doc­u­mented re­la­tion­ship with the United States, should be granted ad­mit­tance.

The Sec­re­taries of State and Home­land Se­cu­rity should is­sue guid­ance al­low­ing U.s.-af­fil­i­ated Iraqis to re­set­tle in the United States. They should re­al­ize how im­por­tant it is to get this right, and how dev­as­tat­ing it would be to get it wrong. As Jas­sup’s story shows, de­lay can equal death in Iraq.

Iraqis who de­serve safe pas­sage to the United States should not have to re­main in dan­ger while we try to get our act to­gether. Nor should they have to en­dure un­nec­es­sary de­lays or another process of es­tab­lish­ing their bona fide re­la­tion­ship to the United States.

Like many other veter­ans who have served this coun­try, I care deeply about our safety and se­cu­rity at home. But Iraqis like Jas­sup pose no risk or threat to us; quite the con­trary. Jas­sup cared deeply about his na­tion, and also about the na­tion he hoped one day to call home: Amer­ica. We should honor our prom­ises to Iraqis like Jas­sup.

Travis Weiner is an Army vet­eran, a law stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Colorado Boul­der, and mem­ber of Veter­ans for Amer­i­can Ideals, a project of Hu­man Rights First.

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