LAST FEBRUARY I sat in a crowded auditorium and watched my friend Wisam Al-Baidhani become an American. He raised his right hand and swore to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
That’s the same oath I swore when I joined the Army. The only difference is that Wisam was carrying out the oath even before he took it.
From July 2008 to April 2009, I was a member of the 340th Military Police Company, which was charged with training and supervising the Iraqi police force. Wisam was our interpreter. He was smart and fearless. Working with US forces put his life at risk. One day, Wisam received a bullet wrapped in a note: “This is for your heart if you do not stop working for them.”
His brother Khalid, who also worked with US troops, was shot in the face, but miraculously survived. Fortunately, along with Khalid and their sister, Duaa, Wisam was able to resettle in the United States. But Wisam’s father, Mohammed, and other siblings, who also face life-threatening danger because of the brothers’ support for the United States, are still trapped in Iraq. Wisam’s uncle, another interpreter, has already been killed.
Like so many other vulnerable people, they’re victims of President Trump’s anti-Muslim, antirefugee executive order, which he signed a year ago this week.
You may recall that the executive order sparked huge protests and chaos at airports. Courts blocked the order on grounds that it was discriminatory. Then they blocked a revised version. But in December, the Supreme Court allowed a third version to go into effect.
Although the most recent version of Trump’s various executive orders is the first to allow in some refugees and their families, it mandates extreme vetting measures that make admission difficult, if not impossible. It is apparently these measures that are keeping Wisam’s family members from getting visas.
President Trump would have Americans believe that his restrictive immigration policies are keeping them safe from terrorists. But many of those he’s shutting out either are victims of terrorism or are other persecuted people who desperately need protection.
This is a personal issue for me. As we rode around Baghdad together in a Humvee, I got to know Wisam. I learned that his father had built radios so that he wouldn’t be limited to Saddam Hussein’s propaganda. And that Wisam and Khalid would sit with their father in a locked room, scouring the airwaves for news and hoping that one day they would be free.
Wisam and Khalid and Duaa were able to start new lives in the United States thanks to the Special Immigrant Visa and Priority 2 Visa programs. Yet they can’t rest easy as long as their father and other family members remain in danger.
As Americans are getting swept up by misinformation and misguided fear, people like Wisam’s family members are being forgotten. Or worse, they’re being demonized.
One year into this political battle, those of us who believe the United States should remain a safe haven have won some victories. But the Trump administration has brought about some alarming changes, changes that threaten to do nothing less than redefine the United States.
Watching Wisam receive citizenship and seeing his proud smile reminded me of America’s capacity to live up to its ideals. We must overcome those who divide us and we must help people who have aided this country — and who now need the protection of the United States.Peter Farley is a US Army veteran who lives in Taunton. He is a leader with Veterans for American Ideals, a project of Human Rights First.