OPINION | Loyal war translators earned US immigrant visas
© Getty Images

At 3 am on Sunday July 16th, while we all slept soundly, veterans of the Pennsylvania National Guard 103rd Armor Regiment started making their way to Dulles Airport. Their Afghan translator "Fred" and his family were finally on their way to the United States after a 5-year wait because of a single typo in his Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) application. Despite 10 years working with the U.S. military, 500 missions, and dozens of fire fights, a single word almost kept America's promise out of his grasp.

But one word and layers of frustrating bureaucracy were no match for the determination of the men he served with and protected. They had seen combat and had borne all its hardships together. They were not going to leave a man behind. So when Fred finally received his visa thanks to the persistence of retired FBI agent Dave Lemoine, who showed up to 25 Congressional offices unannounced to press Fred's case, and his equally tenacious lawyer Sari Long, they knew what they had to do.

ADVERTISEMENT

They started a Go Fund Me page and raised enough to fly him and his family to America on their own dime.  They had lost faith in the State Department and did not want to take a chance that the death threats Fred was receiving would catch up with him. Now safely settled in Omaha, this story has a happy ending. But it almost wasn't so.  



An intense lobbying effort by No One Left Behind and The International Refugee Assistance Project finally succeeded in getting 2,500 visas added to the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act.  The program was in danger of being cancelled, stranding thousands of combat translators and their families. Fred received one of those visas.

Soldiers complete their mission. It is part of the warrior ethos instilled in every new recruit. This team that met each other for the first time Sunday morning pulled together because the U.S. government had let them down. Their enterprising spirit, unwavering determination and resourcefulness embody the best of AmericaThe government's passive approach to combat interpreters being hunted for standing with the U.S. military represents the worst.

It's time to grant enough SIVs for every combat translator and their families still waiting. We need to streamline the SIV review process. We need to pass a sense of the Congress that names these brave men and women "Honorary Veterans" so that 56,000 charities established to help veterans can treat them like the heroes they are.

We must stand Shohna ba Shohna — Shoulder to Shoulder — with our wartime allies. 

Ryan Crocker was U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009, serving under President George W. Bush. He was President Obama's ambassador to Afghanistan 2011 - 2012. He is on a leave of absence from Texas A&M University, and will be Diplomat in Residence at Princeton University for the academic year 2017-2018.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.