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America prides itself on honoring its veterans, but it is not doing as well as it thinks.

America’s military hires interpreters from the country it is occupying to translate the language

for them. When they pull out of the country, America leaves over 50,000 of these veterans

behind, regardless of how much danger those interpreters will be in(Ryan). Plus, the number of

visas America is able to give out to their interpreters is steadily decreasing. Even though it will

cost money and require hard work, interpreters for the American military should be granted

American citizenship.

Translators and their families are in immediate danger. Being an interpreter for America

is seen as being a traitor to the country or to the terrorist group that has control, meaning the

interpreters and their families could be attacked, tortured, or murdered at any time. “‘[Taliban]

will stop the car and block the road, and say, “Come here, I need you, bro” … Then hang me or

shoot me...I don’t know what they will do to me.’”shares a translator named Fared(Deeply). He

has been waiting four years to get a Special Immigrant Visa, despite the danger he is in. He has

been forced to live in hiding, which is not uncommon for interpreters like him. A photojournalist

working on a Smithsonian Magazine article about the abandoned interpreters spoke to a man

who had been an interpreter for nine years. “‘He said he wouldn’t live with his family, his wife

and three daughters, for their own safety...He pulled his daughters out of school for the same

reason...They’re always looking over their shoulders’”(Trieb and Frail). ​ ​There is proof of the

real danger the interpreters are facing. One statistic states that they are ten times more likely to

die than the American soldiers(Denn). ​ ​When America needed their help, they came. The

translators work for a country that they have never been to. They are risking their lives for

soldiers they have known for a very short period of time and a nation’s citizens that they have
never met at all. Because they are sacrificing their safety, peace of mind, friends, and even

families, America should be granting them citizenship. The translators, who are not even

American, are doing more for America than most American people themselves. Granted, part of

the application process for a Special Immigrant Visa is documenting the danger the interpreter is

in. But the people judging how much s/he needs the visa are an ocean away and have never been

in the same situation. Plus, being in danger is not the only important reason a translator might

want a visa.

Interpreters and the soldiers they work with develop strong relationships. The soldiers are

not the ones trying to keep the translators out of the country, which is really saying something,

since the soldiers knew them best and entrusted them with their lives. One man named Fraidoon

Akhtari, known as ‘Fred’ to the soldiers he worked with, served for ten years as an interpreter.

Not only did they raise money for him and his family’s tickets, but 25 members of the regiment

he worked with met him at the airport. “‘For these guys, I do not know what to say, they are the

greatest people,’ [Akhtari] said. ‘They are members of my family’”(Griffin). Akhtari saved the

lives of his friends, something interpreters are doing every day. Many soldiers have stories of

when their translator saved the lives of everyone with them. “In April 2008, Matt Zeller found

himself in the middle of a Taliban ambush in eastern Afghanistan, when his Afghan interpreter,

Janis Shinwari, saved his life. The translator shot and killed two insurgents sneaking up on Zeller

before they could kill him. ‘Simply put, I shouldn’t be alive today,’ the former U.S. Army

intelligence officer said...”(Katzenberg). Matt Zeller would eventually begin the No One Left

Behind organization, which fights to bring translators to safety. This is the same organization

that assisted Akhtari in coming to America. If the soldiers who knew these people and worked
closely with them trust them, that should be good enough for the people who have not

experienced the situation firsthand. Some soldiers and translators have even married. ​“‘He really

became my best friend...He's so modest and humble, he's a really generous

person.’”(​Graham-Harrison). ​This is how Danielle Bennett describes her husband, Karim. She is

a former soldier and he was a translator. They married while still overseas, and they have a child,

but since Karim still has not gotten a visa, he has never seen his son except through Skype. These

translators all have friends or family in America, so they should be granted citizenship to be able

to see the people they are almost certainly missing. Their country of birth should make no

difference in whether they are with their loved ones or not, especially after all the things the

translators sacrificed for those loved ones.

Not only will granting citizenship benefit the interpreters, it will benefit America. If it

continues to abandon its interpreters, the United States will find it harder and harder to hire new

ones. The country will struggle when it finds itself confronted by a humongous language barrier

during war. No one will want to fight for or with a country that thinks humans are disposable. An

article on Task and Purpose underlines this point by saying, ​“...This is what we are outraged

about — it doesn’t matter if you were promised a visa in exchange for the critical service that

you provided us during our war effort….If we don’t keep this promise, that’s going to be our

legacy going forward. That’s going to be the prevailing narrative of the United States — that

we’re a nation that just takes advantage of people when we need them and then throws them

away when we’re done. And if that becomes how people view our country, why should we ever

expect to have allies in anything?”(Katzenberg). Due to America’s history of helping translators

in other wars, potential translators will definitely notice when the United States ignores people
already working for them. According to a Smithsonian magazine article, ​“​The United States has

a history of modifying immigration laws to take in foreigners who aided its overseas aims and

came to grief for it—a few thousand nationalist Chinese after the 1949 Communist takeover of

China, 40,000 anti-communist Hungarians after the failed rebellion against Soviet dominance in

1956, some 130,000 South Vietnamese in the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War in 1975.

An SIV program for Iraqi interpreters, closed to applicants in 2014, has delivered about 17,300

visas”(Trieb and Frail). There is a drastic difference in numbers between the people being

granted visas now and the people the United States has helped in the past. Future translators will

notice this difference, and draw the obvious conclusion that they will be valued less. They will

know that there is less of an effort for their protection, and becoming an interpreter is just too

much of a risk in that case. They will know the real situation behind the false promises. For

translators “...It’s too dangerous to return to [your] native...province, where Taliban insurgents

control many highways and use information from bus and taxi drivers, teachers and sometimes

even mullahs to track down interpreters,” says one article(Deeply). If this is the case, it might not

be enough for a translator to ​maybe ​get a visa. There is also the fact that getting a visa does not

mean they are a citizen, so they are lacking the rights a citizen has. Even in a country they fought

for, they would not have all the privileges most other people have. The United States must grant

these people definite citizenship, if not to preserve its reputation and its chances at getting more

interpreters, then because it is the morally correct thing to do. America would flounder without


Some citizens believe that by giving the interpreters citizenship, America is robbing their

country of people who can improve that country. “We need to start building an expectation that
U.S. money and western resources are there to help enterprising and positive individuals bring

the safety we’re used to enjoying home their communities, rather than seeking it in our own.”

says one article(Flows). This is true to a point. However, these interpreters cannot cause any

change by themselves, and there is not a way to unify themselves that lets them live long enough

to make a difference. “Their service in the U.S. military is this big secret in their lives...They

can’t tell their friends, they can’t tell their relatives, they don’t even talk about it with one

another.”(Trieb and Frail). The interpreters would be risking not just their own lives but those of

their families and friends. It is not that they do not want to improve their country. But they could

not live long enough to unify and make changes to their country.

Other citizens say that there is not enough money to make all those translators citizens.

However, America is a country that claims all men are created equal. If this is true, then any

person, especially the interpreters risking their lives, should have an equal chance of getting

citizenship. The problem would be solved if the government made these interpreters a priority

and not a second-thought. If the government was more proactive instead of reactive, it could

reapportion money specifically for visas. It could create a committee or task group specifically

geared toward assisting the interpreters that work for America. This group could figure out and

vote on plans for how to get or relocate money for the translators’ citizenship. If America can

afford to pay for four years of college for all of its American soldiers, it should be able to pay

for, at least, visas for its interpreters.

No matter how many relationships they form, people they save, or how much danger they

put themselves through, for a translator, even getting a visa is a struggle. Right now, a

non-pressing issue for a United States politician is a very pressing issue for an interpreter who
could die at any moment. The United States government should, at the very least, give them the

choice to come to the U.S. If America wants to be seen as a country that treats everyone equally

and supports its veterans, it must grant these translators citizenship.

Works Cited

Deeply, Refugees. “Afghan Translators Hope U.S. Visas Will Arrive Before The Taliban

Does.” ​The Huffington Post​,, 18 Jan. 2017,


Denn, Will. “No One Left Behind.” ​KENNEDY SCHOOL REVIEW​, 4 July 2014,

Flows, Capital. “Visas For Afghan And Iraqi Interpreters: The Case For Neo-Colonialism.”

Forbes​, Forbes Magazine, 4 Aug. 2014,


Graham-Harrison, Emma. “Afghan Interpreters Who Fell in Love with US Soldiers

Struggle in Visa Limbo.” ​The Guardian​, Guardian News and Media, 29 Nov. 2013,

Griffin, Jennifer. “US Soldiers Welcome Afghan Translator Who Saved Their Life: See the

Tearful Reunion.” ​Fox News​, FOX News Network, 17 July 2017,

Katzenberg, Lauren. “What Trump's Travel Ban Means For Iraqi Interpreters Who Served

Alongside US Troops.” ​Task & Purpose​, 3 Feb. 2017,


Ryan, Kyla. “Left Behind: The Afghan Translators Who Served With the U.S. Military.”

The Diplomat​, The Diplomat, 8 Jan. 2015,


Surana, Kavitha. “Special Visas for Afghan Interpreters Are Running Out.” ​Foreign

Policy​, Foreign Policy, 11 Mar. 2017,


Trieb, Erin, and T.A Frail. “The Tragic Fate of the Afghan Interpreters the U.S. Left

Behind.”​​, Smithsonian Institution, 1 Nov. 2016,


“U.S. Immigration Benefits for Professional Translators and Interpreters.” ​The Chronicle

US Immigration Benefits for Professional Translators and Interpreters Comments​,