DENVER – President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily barring some immigrants and refugees from predominantly-Muslim nations has created confusion among those affected by the order and lawyers and government officials tasked with upholding it.
Lawyers and Trump administration officials worked through the weekend to figure out exactly whom the ban applies to.
The order bans travel from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen for 90 days and suspends refugee admission for 120 days across the board. Syrian refugees are banned indefinitely.
Homeland Security officials clarified Tuesday that the president’s original order applied to green card holders, but that is not the case after a waiver was implemented.
But officials say they will determine on a “case-by-case basis” whether or not people with special immigrant visas (SIVs) will be allowed in. Originally, officials were unclear whether or not those visas were affected.
SIVs are given to Iraqi and Afghan translators and interpreters who worked for U.S. armed services forces in those countries. Translators and interpreters receive “SI” visas, while Iraqis and Afghans who worked for or on the behalf of the U.S. receive “SQ” visas.
The National Defense Authorization Act allows a total of 7,000 visas to be handed out between December 2014 and now. People had to apply for the visa by the end of 2016.
Though Afghanistan is not one of the seven countries on the list of affected nations, Iraq is. But officials have said Iraqis with SIVs will still be let into the country.
AFGHAN INTERPRETER NOW LIVING IN DENVER
Few people in Denver know just how hard it is to get an SIV than Tamim Ziaye.
Ziaye is 27 years old and works at Denver International Airport.
But from 2011 to 2014, he worked as a translator and interpreter for the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps across his native Afghanistan.
But he says that getting a U.S. visa was never the reason he started working for U.S. forces in the first place.
“I was studying in college – economics,” Ziaye said. “I had to make money for myself and for my education, so I started working for the U.S. It wasn’t about coming to the U.S.; most of us needed money.”
He dropped out of school and started working with the Army in Kabul in 2011, where he spent “8 or 10 months,” he said, before transferring to another part of the country.
“It was a terrible time in a very dangerous place,” Ziaye said.
He was then transferred to Helmand Province, where he worked with the Marines Corps for two years before stopping at the end of 2014.
Ziaye said he sometimes lived in fear of being caught by Taliban insurgents, knowing he would be killed if they got hold of him. Once, he was on patrol with his sergeant when a sniper opened fire.
“They either targeted me or the sergeant; the bullet was 1 or 2 feet from us,” he said. “I could feel the vapor.”
In March 2014, his lieutenant in the Marines helped him start the process to obtain a special immigrant visa. It took two years before the processing and vetting was finally completed.
The day he came to the United States is burned in his brain: “March 15, 2016,” he said without pause when asked when he finally arrived.
“I like [Denver]; it’s beautiful. Especially where I’m from [in Afghanistan], there are mountains, trees and rivers. It’s similar to this area,” Ziaye said.
He says Americans have treated him well since he arrived, and that people are even more appreciative of him and his story when he tells them how he got here in the first place.
“I work in the airport, and today – ‘Where are you from?’ a lady asked. I told her I’m from Afghanistan. She really appreciated me,” he said. “When they understand how we came to the U.S., how hard we work, how we put our lives in danger, they understand.”
But his Iraqi counterparts for much of the weekend feared they would not get the same treatment simply because they are from a different country.
Regarding Trump’s order, Ziaye says he believes that the president is right in vetting people who want to come to the U.S. He was vetted for nearly two years himself.
“You don’t know people’s backgrounds. Bad people are everywhere,” he said. “People treat me very good here, but sometimes I don’t feel safe here as well. Extremists of every religion and nation are everywhere.”
He said that he supports vetting people, as has been the case for years, but stopped short of saying there should be a ban on certain countries.
“I’m not saying I’m supporting [the order] – maybe there are bad people in Afghanistan too. Afghanistan has a lot of insurgent activity and a lot of terrorists are focusing on Afghanistan,” he said.
But Ziaye says he feels lucky to have made it through the visa process and be living in Denver now, where many of his American friends he served with overseas also live. They see one another often.
But some of his fellow interpreters weren’t as lucky.
“I have friends who were left behind and are still waiting for their visa,” he said, noting that some of his friends also remain captured by insurgents.
And he says the scars of war remain despite a new country and a new job.
“I still feel war in my soul,” Ziaye said. “When I hear something really loud, like someone shutting the door, I’m shocked; I’m scared. You still remember.”
Ziaye says he experiences symptoms of what is often diagnosed as PTSD, but says he hasn’t seen a doctor or psychologist.
“It’s part of my life. I have to sort it out myself and throw away what I went through.”
Now, with an intact visa, Ziaye says he’s still settling into life in America. He says he has experienced occasional financial issues he expected while resettling and starting a new life.
He says he has thought about finishing his studies, and that his captain had tried to get him to move to North Carolina. He declined. “I have friends here and a driver’s license,” he said.
And after some initial apprehension about his move, Ziaye says he’s happy to have helped American troops and appreciates how hard his Marine lieutenant worked to get him a visa to come here.
“I feel so proud.”