Tom McCuin served two tours as an Army public affairs officer in Afghanistan, and worked closely with local nationals hired by American forces.
“They were not only our language interpreters, they were our cultural interpreters,” he wrote on clearancejobs.com, a site that lists openings for individuals with government security clearances. “Our interpreters were our bridge to the local population. They were locals themselves, who knew the lay of the land. Their service was, in a word, invaluable.”
One of those locals, whom McCuin called “Hamid” in his post, was severely wounded in an attack that killed his brother and another interpreter. And yet when Hamid tried to immigrate to America under a special visa program that rewards “faithful service” to the United States by Afghan and Iraqi nationals, he was turned down as a security risk.
“If Hamid is a threat to American security, then so am I,” wrote an outraged McCuin. The rejection of his visa “is a stain on our national reputation.”
Yes, it is — an indelible stain. And yet, the shameful stories of Hamid and U.S. employees like him in both Afghanistan and Iraq are largely unknown. They are victims of a broad and brutal crackdown on all legal immigrants by the Trump administration, which harbors a special animosity toward potential newcomers from Muslim countries.
The president, after all, during the campaign, called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” He had to settle for a partial travel ban after repeated defeats in federal court, but he continually throws up bureaucratic roadblocks that have been quite effective at thwarting potential immigrants like Hamid.
Only 1,650 Afghan employees of the U.S. mission immigrated to America during fiscal year 2018 under the special visa program — a drop of 60 percent. Many thousands remain on waiting lists, and while Congress did add 4,000 visas to the program last January, delays and denials amount to a death sentence for many of those left behind.
“This is a betrayal of the brave men and women who stood by the side of U.S. armed forces in the face of great personal risk,” Scott Cooper, founder of Veterans for American Ideals, told the journal Foreign Policy.
Hamid’s experience of sacrificing for America is repeated by Afghans like Mohammed, who worked for the United States on agricultural development projects and emigrated under the special visa program three years ago. He was forced to leave his homeland after a criminal gang kidnapped his 10-year-old brother; he liquidated his life savings to ransom his brother back.
“I’ve been more faithful to this country than many people who were born here,” Mohammed told us recently. The foreign nationals who work for American missions abroad “defend American values; we contribute to American safety.”
He is one of the lucky ones. His visa application took almost three years, but finally came through. Many others have not been so fortunate.
An Afghan named Naseri “survived countless ambushes in the more than five years he spent interpreting for U.S. troops,” reports the Washington Post. His visa application was approved in June of 2017, but the Post recounts the torment that followed: “Naseri sold everything he had — his car, furniture, clothes, appliances, his children’s toys — and flew to Dubai with his wife and three young daughters on a flight bound for Houston. Then he was stopped in the airport. There was a problem with their visas, but no explanation.”
Naseri and his family were forced to return to Afghanistan. Taliban gangs have tried to break into his house and threatened to kill him. He remains in hiding while former military officers he once worked with try to revive his application.
“These guys were trusted to be in one of the most austere environments to fight to the death with Americans if need be,” John Farris, a retired Marine, told the Post. “We became brothers out there.”
The betrayals of Hamid and Naseri typify U.S. policy. Thousands of Afghans and Iraqis who served this country honorably and fearlessly, who fought side by side with American troops and became their brothers, are being abandoned by this administration. And the stain is not just a moral one. This perfidy will seriously damage America’s ability to recruit allies and employees in other places at other times.
“It sends a message the United States can’t be trusted to keep its word,” Rep. Michael Waltz, a Florida Republican and former Army Green Beret, told the Post.
In this and so many vital areas, that violation of trust has become this president’s lasting legacy around the world.
Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org