Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’ Would Betray Military Interpreters
The billionare's bigoted campaign has no clue about how America fights
Real-estate mogul and Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump recently promised to ban entry of Muslims into the United States. This comes after he suggested creating a database of Muslims in America and issuing them with special forms of identification.
The remarks provoked a backlash among candidates in both parties and from House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan. Critics argue the policy is hateful, racist, likely unconstitutional and would overwhelmingly criminalize innocent people.
The Trump campaign doesn’t seem to care. During an appearance on CNN, Trump campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson dismissed these concerns, stating, “So what? They’re Muslim.”
This policy would not just ban Syrian refugees. It would bar entry to Muslim interpreters whose work with the U.S. military has made them targets for terrorist groups. It would be a another betrayal for a group of men and women who have fought a long battle for recognition.
The United States relies on translators to help American soldiers communicate with local people in Iraq and Afghanistan, and could need similar help in Syria. Though some American soldiers speak the local languages, the majority of interpreters are civilians contracted to accompany troops onto battlefields.
The translator corps includes both American citizens and local nationals among its ranks. Local contractors also reflect the diversity of their countries. The United States has hired Christian and Yazidi interpreters, but the majority are Muslim.
For locally contracted linguists, the job is particularly dangerous. Not only do they risk death as they accompany U.S. troops on dangerous missions, they are targets for terrorists when they go on leave to visit friends and family.
Many live in these countries, and chose to work with the Americans because they too want to rid their homelands of violent extremists.
Above — a U.S. Army mortar soldier talks to his interpreter in Diyala province, Iraq in 2011. At top — a U.S. Army soldier with an interpreter in Afghanistan in 2010. U.S. Army photos
For interpreters whose identities are now known to terrorist and militant groups, it has become too dangerous to remain. Many have sought to resettle in the United States, where they must go through an intense vetting process to apply for a Special Immigrant Visa. Most interpreters are eligible after a year of faithful service and the endorsement of troops they served with.
That can take months or years.
In November, War Is Boring profiled Afghan translator Sami Khazikani, one of thousands of interpreters who joined millions of refugees fleeing violence from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and Libya.
Khazikani and his family are currently in Germany. They seek to resettle permanently in the United States where Marine veteran Aaron Fleming — who bunked with Khazikani in Afghanistan and trusted the linguist with his life — has agreed to take them in. Khazikani has expressed interest in continuing to serve as a government translator once his family is safe in America.
To be sure, there have been cases of interpreters acting as spies or agents of enemy groups. But any interpreters considered for admission into the United States must go through rigorous layers of screening before they’re issued a visa. The screening process is distinct from the also rigorous refugee screening process.
The Trump campaign has been inconsistent about whether this ban would bar American Muslims abroad from re-entering the country. Some Trump staffers defiantly told reporters that it would apply to “everyone” who is Muslim. That could harm American Muslims serving abroad as soldiers or diplomats and U.S. citizens working as translators for the military and government agencies.
This comes at a time when the United States is trying to build partnerships in the Muslim world to gather intelligence on extremist groups and find ways to fight them. To build those partnerships, U.S. officials and troops need personnel who speak the languages.
Which means Trump’s proposal would not just betray those who risked their lives to defend the United States — it is a reflection of nativist bigotry and ignorance of how America actually fights.