How Trump’s immigration ban is jeopardizing one Iraqi translator’s future in America

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MILES O’BRIEN: In Iraq, the ban hit one group of people particularly hard, interpreters and other staff who assisted American forces over the last 14 years of conflict there. They are eligible to apply for a special visa program to emigrate here.

But one former interpreter and his family find their plans to move here are now in doubt.

Special correspondent Jane Ferguson reports from Northern Iraq.

JANE FERGUSON: After seven years working with the U.S. military, Abdul Hamid Abdul Ghani has plenty of souvenirs. He proudly shows us military coins given to him by U.S. commanders in Iraq.

ABDUL HAMID, Former Iraqi Interpreter: And this was what I got from General Petraeus.

JANE FERGUSON: As an Iraqi fluent in English, he was thrilled to get a job working with American troops in 2003 as a translator. He dreamt of living in the U.S. one day. After lengthy vetting, including background checks, fingerprinting and extensive interviews, that day was almost at hand.

Ghani, his wife and three children were supposed to start a new life in San Diego next week. They would be admitted to the U.S. on a special immigrant visa, recognizing the work he had done for American soldiers. But, yesterday, he got an e-mail saying those plans had been canceled.

ABDUL HAMID: My bags are ready. They are all packed. I almost have nothing here now. My life is destroyed. I can put it that way. It’s totally destroyed.

JANE FERGUSON: President Trump’s executive order placed a 90-day block on visas for Iraqis to visit the U.S. Even if that changes thereafter, Abdul Hamid’s visa requires he enter the U.S. before the end of February.

ABDUL HAMID: How can the president of the United States do such a thing?

JANE FERGUSON: The work Abdul Hamid did for the military has placed him in danger. In today’s Iraq, having helped Americans chase down suspected terrorists is a risky reputation to have. His wife is frightened.

SAFA ABDUL GHANI, Iraq: We are not safe here, especially his work from — with the Americans, and he — threatened…

ABDUL HAMID: Threatened, yes.

SAFA ABDUL GHANI: Threatened, yes, from terrorists.

JANE FERGUSON: She is also concerned for their eldest child. Tariq is 12 and has Down syndrome. His parents had hoped to find better specialist care for him in the U.S.

It’s not just ordinary Iraqis who are devastated by the news of a visa ban. Parliamentarians in Baghdad are angry, and calling for a strong response, escalating the diplomatic crisis.

Iraqi lawmakers voted today to ban visas for Americans for 90 days. While the measure has not yet been approved by the entire government, it would affect the large numbers of American contract support staff aiding the American military in Iraq right now, who are fighting a crucial battle against ISIS.

The Ghanis are still not sure whether their plans to move to the U.S. are impossible now.

Have you told the kids? Do they understand?

ABDUL HAMID: I haven’t told them that we are not going yet. I can’t really look at them in the eye and tell them, hey, we are not going, because they have really high hopes, you know?

JANE FERGUSON: So, their bags remain packed, ready for a future that now seems much less certain.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Jane Ferguson in Dohuk, Iraq.

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