Travel Ban Endangers Troops
You won’t hear much criticism of President Donald Trump’s travel ban from former state Rep. Frank Corte Jr., a staunch conservative who believes in America’s “ability to secure our borders.”
Corte even supports Trump’s promise to make exceptions for Christians from the targeted countries: “I think the people who perpetrated the crimes that we are trying to prevent have been Muslims,” he said. “You don’t see Christians motivated by ISIS to blow things up and kill somebody.”
You will hear in Corte, however, a degree of nuance.
It’s borne from experience.
In 2006, more than a decade into representing north San Antonio in the Legislature, Corte undertook a treacherous mission in Iraq to advise the governor of Anbar province.
Traveling the war-torn country with Ma’amoon Sami Rashid Al-Awani, whom insurgents targeted relentlessly for assassination, Corte learned to rely on interpreters, including one from Sudan.
“We actually had a group of interpreters,” said Corte, a retired Marine Corps reserve colonel. “They were really hard to find because of what we called ‘m and i’ — murder and intimidation. If you worked for coalition forces, you were a target.”
Corte meant the interpreters were targeted by insurgents, of course. Yet the same sort of heroes who risked their lives for Americans now find themselves targeted, outrageously, by the United States.
Hameed Khalid Darweesh, for instance, was detained for nearly 19 hours on Saturday at Kennedy Airport. After aiding Americans in Iraq for a decade, the interpreter was fleeing the Middle East with his family on a special immigrant visa because he feared his life was in danger.
Finally released, Darweesh began to cry as he spoke to reporters.
“What I do for this country? They put the cuffs on,” he said, according to the New York Times.
Who are “they”?
Trump drafted his executive order with a small circle of advisers, leaving the National Security Council and other agencies largely in the dark. It targets citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iraq and Sudan, who are barred from entering the United States for at least 90 days.
The order encompasses even those who served alongside Americans in war, according to Erica Schommer, clinical assistant professor of law at St. Mary’s University.
“Yes, the ban would apply to all of those people,” Schommer told me.
She noted that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security stated in a memo it has the authority, “on a case-by-case basis,” to allow people from the banned countries into the United States “when it serves the national interest.”
“In theory, that ought to be used for someone who worked for our country,” Schommer said.
“If we have an agreement with somebody who helped us serve to help their people, then that should be honored,” he said. “That information should be in their record. We should maintain the agreement we made.”
Corte acknowledged the importance of nurturing trust between Americans and friends in unfriendly places: “The relationship building is important,” he said.
“Anybody who’s in any role — whether it’s security or governance or whatever — you’ve got to have that trust, no doubt. Otherwise, you don’t get the information.”
For American troops, staying alive can hinge on information.
For those who would provide it, Trump’s order is a stinging betrayal of trust.
That puts Americans everywhere at risk, including those who are working now with Iraqi troops to retake Mosul from Islamic State militants.
U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, made that clear in a statement opposing Trump’s order.
“This visa ban is the ultimate display of mistrust and will erode our allies’ willingness to fight with us,” he said. “The ban also provides terrorists with another tool to gain sympathy and recruit new fighters.”
Hurd understands this as a former undercover CIA officer — again, an understanding of nuance borne from experience. Sadly, Trump’s travel ban is not surprising, coming from a president who lacks both.