Iraqi translator who aided U.S. military granted visa to come here

An Iraqi man who risked his life serving as an interpreter for the U.S. military during the war in his native country has been granted a visa to come to America after a more than two-year wait, his attorney confirmed this week.

The man, who asked that his name not be used for his family’s safety, is scheduled to arrive in Salt Lake City on Monday, said his attorney, Becca Heller, who represented him in a federal lawsuit seeking a resolution in his case.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution featured the man in an article this month about the plight of Iraqis who are seeking to flee their native country amid new sectarian violence there.

Heller said in an email that she was thrilled her client has been granted a Special Immigrant Visa “after more than two years of bureaucratic hurdles and several death threats.” She said U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, both Democrats, helped.

“It should not have taken two congressional offices, two years, a team of lawyers and a federal lawsuit to get (him) to the U.S.,” said Heller, director of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project at the Urban Justice Center.

The U.S. State Department declined to comment on the case, citing federal privacy laws. But a spokeswoman for the agency said the number of pending applications for Iraqis seeking Special Immigrant Visas has fallen since last month by 100 to about 1,600.

Congress created the resettlement program for Iraqis and their spouses and children in 2007. To be eligible, Iraqis must have been employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq for a year or more between 2003 and 2013. They must also submit a letter of recommendation from their supervisor and demonstrate they are experiencing “an ongoing serious threat” because of their work with the U.S. government. Interviews and background checks are part of the process.

With Heller’s help, the Iraqi man filed a federal lawsuit last month seeking to force the government to take action on his application. The lawsuit says more than 1,000 interpreters who worked for the U.S. military and allied forces during the war in Iraq have been killed in combat or assassinated.

The plaintiff said he narrowly escaped a kidnapping attempt during the war and recently received a death threat from an Iraqi government official. He fled to Istanbul with his wife and two young children last month.

“How can you prove that your life is in danger? Should I get shot to prove that to you?” he said in a recent interview through Skype from his hotel room in Turkey. “Should I get kidnapped and pay money and get out so you can be convinced?”