Congressmen Urge Trump To Work With Mattis To Exempt Iraqi Military Interpreters From Travel Ban

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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Several members of Congress who have also served in the U.S. military are sending a letter to President Donald Trump, urging him to accept Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s push to exempt Iraqi interpreters from the recent travel ban.

GOP Reps. Duncan Hunter and Adam Kinzinger are spearheading the point that Iraqi allies are crucial to U.S. military operations in Iraq need to be protected, and should not be unilaterally kept out of the country, according to a letter obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“With regard to your executive order to temporarily halt immigration originating from specified countries, we want to register our strong support for the request of Secretary of Defense James Mattis to exempt military interpreters, aides and other allies who risked their lives alongside U.S. personnel in Iraq,” the legislators wrote in their letter. It’s expected to be sent Monday.

Trump signed an executive order Friday temporarily banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Iraq was one of the countries listed as a region torn apart by violence and jihadi activity. But for these members of Congress, there are numerous Iraqi allies on the ground who put their lives on the line to support U.S. security operations.

Without an exemption from the recent ban, they and their families could face the prospect of a bloody death; that would also send a strong message that the U.S. doesn’t have its allies’ backs.

A Pentagon official told The Washington Examiner earlier Monday that Mattis fully intends to request that a list of Iraqi interpreters and certain Iraqi pilots receive exemptions from the ban.

Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton, a Marine Corps veteran, told ABC News he couldn’t believeMattis would support a blanket ban on translators. Moulton has joined as a signer of Hunter and Kinzinger’s letter.

“There is no way in hell that he is supportive of this,” Moulton told ABC News. “He relied on translators for his life, just like I did. He understands what it means to put your life in the hands of an Iraqi or an Afghan. He also knows that implicit in that is that they put their lives in our hands as well and now we’re abandoning them.”

Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer and GOP Rep. Steve Stivers are also listed as signers of the letter. Stivers served in the Ohio National Guard.

Since 2008, Iraqi interpreters and others who supported U.S. operations have been able to apply for visas under the Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa program. Due to their support of the occupying U.S. force, in the aftermath of the invasion their lives and the lives of their families have frequently been in jeopardy.

“These allies risked their own lives, as well as the well-being of their families, to advance America’s security interests in a region where their skillsets and willingness to confront extremism have been invaluable to mission success,” the letter continues. “We are concerned that, with specific application to individuals who worked with the U.S. Government on the ground, certain immigrants deserving prompt consideration are likely to be overlooked.”

According to these legislators, providing particular Iraqis with exemptions will encourage others around the world to support U.S. security interests — even when doing so places them at great personal risk.

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