Red tape: True friend from Iraq deserves better treatment

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Sign the petition for Iraq's three-region solution March 25, 2008 Red tape: True friend from Iraq deserves better treatment

Longview News-Journal

In a case that might make Joseph Heller's farcical "Catch 22" seem mundane, the case of Iraqi translator Saman Kareem Ahmad is enough to make one wince in pain at the ineptitude of our federal bureaucracy.

Ahmad worked for nearly four years as a translator for the Marines in Iraq, not only in his relatively stable home territory of Kurdistan, but also in hot spots such as Anbar Province when it was the center of some of the war's heaviest insurgent fighting. As one Marine officer wrote in a letter of recommendation, "Sam put his life on the line with, and for, Coalition Forces on a daily basis."

The letter of recommendation written by Capt. Trent Gibson was just one of many documents in a file that supported Ahmad's inclusion in a program to help Ahmad join an initial group of 50 Iraqi and Afghan interpreters who were allowed into the United States under a special visa program. Ahmad also had commendations from Army Gen. David Petraeus and the Secretary of the Navy to back up the Marine officer's opinion.

Because of their close work with American forces, native interpreters can face heightened dangers. When threats against Ahmad were detected, Marine Corps officials began working on getting him out of harm's way.

Ahmad made it safely into the United States two years ago and he now works in Virginia for the Marines' Quantico-based Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning, training Marines about to deploy in basics of the Arabic language and about the Iraqi culture.

Mission accomplished, right?

Not so fast. Ahmad recently learned that his application for permanent residence — a "green card" — had been rejected. In the eyes of the bureaucracy, he is a potential terrorist.

And here's the kicker: He is branded as such because he was once a member of the Kurdish Democratic Party which, as reported in the Washington Post, "U.S. immigration officials deemed an 'undesignated terrorist organization' for having sought to overthrow former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein."

It gets even richer. The KDP is officially a U.S. ally. It is the ruling party in the elected government of Iraq's Kurdish northern region and it holds seats in the Iraqi parliament.

Ahmad's status as "inadmissable" is based on the fact he was a member of KDP militia forces which had the temerity to conduct "full-scale armed attacks" and help "incite rebellions against Hussein's regime, most notably during the Iran-Iraq war, Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom."

For the time being, Ahmad is secure with his visa and his asylum status. But asylum and a visa can be easily revoked. Permanent residency, however, is not so easily withdrawn and one can't blame Ahmad or his supporters for their concerns about getting him that status.

It's easy enough to say that it's unlikely Ahmad's visa and asylum could be pulled out from under his feet. But how likely did it seem that his residency application would be rejected because he once belonged to a party that tried to topple Saddam Hussein?

Lawyers are working to help Ahmad get his green card and American military officials are supporting his cause. But they are all up against the government bureaucracy. Let's hope that if they can't break through the red tape, the Secretary of Homeland Defense has the authority to grant a waiver, allowing Ahmad's application to bypass the hurdle now in front of him.

Let's hope such a step can be taken soon so Ahmad no longer has to worry: "I'm expecting, they stop the process of green card, tomorrow they're going to tell you to get out."

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