Oregon Soldier Helps Iraqi Translators Come To U.S.
Bush administration officials, as well as both major presidential candidates, responded Tuesday to calls for an Iraqi withdrawal timetable.
The Iraqi government says, at some point, it wants the American military to leave their country.
In the meantime, thousands are leaving Iraq and moving to the United States. Ethan Lindsey reports on one Oregon soldier who is trying to help with that.
When Captain Jason Faler served in Iraq in 2005, he worked closely with local translators at the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. Together they sat in on high-level meetings between Iraqi and U.S. officials.
And Faler says it was easy to grow close to the translators — both because they spoke English and he spoke Arabic. His wife is Egyptian-Lebanese.
Jason Faler: “Most of them became very good friends of mine.”
So when Faler returned to Oregon last year, he stayed in touch with his former Iraqi colleagues on email.
Jason Faler: “So it wasn’t odd that I had received an email from three of them on the same day. What was odd was the subject of all three of their emails was the same.”
All three had heard a news report that mentioned a new refugee program passed by Congress.
The legislation, backed in part by Oregon Republican Sen. Gordon Smith, gives special visas to Iraqis who worked as interpreters and translators for U.S. forces in Iraq.
Faler says in Baghdad, translators who work with the U.S. live in fear.
Jason Faler: “They’re all hunted. They are very, very enticing targets for the insurgency today.”
When he got the emails, Faler said he doubted he could get all three of his friends out – but he set about helping them anyway.
All now live in an apartment complex in Salem, with their families.
Maan is one of them.
He goes by just his first name, so that his family back in Iraq can remain safe.
Along with his wife and their two kids, he had a particularly difficult time getting out of the Middle East.
Maan: “I moved to Jordan first to make the interview. The U.S. embassy in Baghdad doesn’t process such a thing. So I moved to Jordan, and I thought at this moment, just within some days, I’ll get the visa and fly to the United States.
Ethan Lindsey: “So, how long were you in Jordan then, if you thought it was just going to be a few days.”
Maan: “Five months. And the more days go on, the more I got pessimistic.”
Maan says he came close to giving up on the dream of moving to the U.S. In early February of this year, he even considered going back to Iraq because he didn’t see any hope for his family in Jordan.
Jason Faler: “And only, a couple of days after that, we got an email from the embassy saying go pick up your visa.”
Maan: “Yeah! And you know, it was Valentine’s Day.”
Jason Faler: “That’s right, it was Valentine’s Day.”
Maan: “I still remember that I have to celebrate this day every year.”
Plane flights to the U.S. aren’t free. Not to mention all the phone calls, shipping costs, and research.
Faler, back in Oregon, decided to ask others for help.
He set up a nonprofit, named the Checkpoint One Foundation. It helps translators move to the U.S. and helps them once they got here.
He decided to locate them in Oregon because they’d be close to him – but also because the cost of living is relatively low.
He’s raised about $80,000 total and helped advise about 50 people from Iraq and Afghanistan. But most of the money so far has gone towards his three friends – and their families.
That’s paid for the costs to get them here – and subsidize their rent, groceries, and other living expenses.
Jason Faler: “At the end of the month, after all the bills are paid, the accounts pretty well cleaned out. And now we’re in the job search mode, which is proving to be the most daunting. Which speaks volumes, because just getting to this point felt like climbing Mount Everest.”
One translator has gotten a job as a part time language tutor for the U.S. military, another has worked as a busboy.
Not very glamorous for men with college and post-graduate degrees.
It could be the slowing economy, or it could be reticence from employers to hire a recent immigrant from Iraq. Or it could be any number of factors.