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Much-lauded translator denied U.S. green card

Sun., March 23, 2008

WASHINGTON – During his nearly four years as a translator for U.S. forces in Iraq, Saman Kareem Ahmad was known for his bravery and hard work. “Sam put his life on the line with, and for, Coalition Forces on a daily basis,” wrote Marine Capt. Trent Gibson.

Gibson’s letter was part of a thick file of support – including commendations from the secretary of the Navy and from then-Maj. Gen. David Petraeus – that helped Ahmad migrate to the United States in 2006, among an initial group of 50 Iraqi and Afghan translators admitted under a special visa program.

Last month, however, the U.S. government turned down Ahmad’s application for permanent residence, known as a green card. His offense: Ahmad had once been part of the Kurdish Democratic Party, which U.S. immigration officials deemed an “undesignated terrorist organization” for having sought to overthrow former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Ahmad, a Kurd, once served in the KDP’s military force, which is part of the new Iraqi army. A U.S. ally, the KDP is now the elected government of the Kurdish region and holds seats in the Iraqi parliament. After consulting public Web sites, however, the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services determined that KDP forces “conducted full-scale armed attacks and helped incite rebellions against Hussein’s regime, most notably during the Iran-Iraq war, Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

Ahmad’s association with a group that had attempted to overthrow a government – even as allies in U.S.-led wars against Hussein – rendered him “inadmissible,” the agency concluded in a three-page letter dated Feb. 26.

In an interview Friday at Quantico Marine Corps Base, where he teaches Arabic language and culture to Marines deploying to Iraq, Ahmad’s voice quavered, and his usually precise English failed him. “I am shamed,” he said. He has put off his plans to marry a seamstress who tailors Marine uniforms. “I don’t want my family live in America, they feel ashamed I’m with a terrorist group. I want them to be proud for what I did for the United States Marine Corps,” Ahmad, 38, said.

“After I receive this letter, it’s been three weeks, since then my whole life turns upside down. You might hear from the lawyer, they’re not going to revoke your (visa), but how can you guarantee this? … I’m expecting, they stop the process of green card, tomorrow they’re going to tell you to get out.”

A nearly identical denial was sent the same day to another Iraqi Kurdish translator living in this country, according to Thomas Ragland, an attorney with a Washington law firm representing both men in court challenges to the denials.

Petraeus, now the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said in an e-mail that he did not recall Ahmad personally, but said that KDP forces had performed valuable security services for the 101st Airborne Division he led in the northern city of Mosul in 2003. He said he had never heard of any U.S. agency labeling the KDP as terrorists.

Retired Marine Capt. Jason Schauble, who returned from Iraq in 2004 after being wounded, is Ahmad’s official sponsor. In a letter he appended last week to Ahmad’s immigration file, Schauble condemned whatever “faceless bureaucracy” rejected the application. “I don’t know what a foreigner has to do that is greater than what Saman Ahmad has done in service to his American allies,” Schauble wrote.

USCIS spokesman Peter Vietti said regulations prevent him from commenting on any specific case. After inquires about Ahmad from the Post, he said, “I can tell you the matter is being looked into.”


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