Iraqi onterpreter ‘excited’ to finally be in United States
NEW YORK — Munther Alaskry and his family were just hours away from their dream as they boarded the final leg of a flight to the United States after waiting seven years for visas. But minutes after sitting down, they were yanked from the plane because President Trump’s immigration order banned Iraqis from entering America.
Alaskry’s wife started to shake. Their son cried, and his 7-year-old daughter asked through tears: “Why the Americans don’t want us?” The Iraqi engineer who bonded with Marines over a shared love of Metallica and cleared away roadside bombs for U.S. troops did not respond. He didn’t know the answer.
“That moment our whole world broke down into pieces,” Alaskry said. “It was devastating for us. We felt like we lost everything. We lost our dreams.”
On Friday, Alaskry and his family arrived at New York’s Kennedy Airport after the Trump administration reversed course and said he and other interpreters who supported the U.S. military could come to America. They spent nearly a week in limbo in Baghdad, thinking their hopes of starting a new life free from death threats had been shattered.
The family did paperwork for more than five hours after landing in New York, but Alaskry said they were treated well.
“I’m very blessed to be here,” he said.
Alaskry is among nearly a dozen Iraqi interpreters who told The Associated Press they were taken off planes or were told their flights were cancelled after Trump’s Jan. 27 order, which banned refugees from Syria and suspended travel into the United States from Iraq and six other Muslim-majority countries.
Initially included in the order were Iraqis who had received special immigrant visas because they worked for the U.S. government during the war. Among them were Alaskry and a 26-year-old man who had worked for the State Department vetting Iraqi contractors. After combat veterans, including members of Congress, criticized the decision, U.S. officials announced the former interpreters would be exempt from the ban.
“We can’t accomplish our war effort without these people, which is why we need to protect them,” said former Army Capt. Matthew Zeller of the nonprofit No One Left Behind, an organization helping Alaskry and other interpreters resettle in the United States.
Alaskry got a call Wednesday from the U.S. embassy in Baghdad that he could now travel to the United States.
He feels sad for his fellow Iraqis who are barred but is happy to get his family out.
As he walked out of the New York airport Friday afternoon, he said the Statue of Liberty topped his list of attractions he wanted to visit.
“I’m excited to come to the States,” he said. “I know American values. I work with brave American soldiers. I ride with them in Humvees. The American people are great people. I love them no matter what.”