Battle Rattle

On the cover: Interpreters fear for their lives, Marines fear they’ll leave a man behind

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On the cover this week, I dig into a complex problem: The Afghan and Iraqi interpreters who risked their lives alongside U.S. Marines and now fear for their lives as they wait for approval for special immigrant visas, a State Department process that can take years.

Marine Corps Times cover

Many of the interpreters I spoke with asked that we blur their faces and disguise their names, because their work with U.S. troops makes them a target for insurgents.

Over the course of this story, I received emails from over 50 interpreters pleading for help in speeding up this process, and describing threats to themselves and their families. The problem appears to lie in the bureaucratic process and the three different agencies that must run security checks on each SIV applicant.

But one Marine officer thinks military commanders could do more to help interpreters as well. Read his story below:

On the ground, some argue there’s more the Defense Department can do as well to ensure the success of interpreters seeking SIVs.

Capt. Rucker Hunt Culpepper, a Marine infantry officer now on terminal leave, said many linguists in Afghanistan are still working on forward operating bases where they may not be given regular access to the internet. Staying on top of a visa application, he said, can be difficult.

“I think that if DoD, Marine Corps, Army leadership came down with a very firm stance in favor of assisting those interpreters who deserve it, that could go some way to influencing the units who are there on FOBs,” he said.

It’s personal for Culpepper, who has been helping his Afghan interpreter, Amin, to navigate the visa system for more than a year, submitting redundant forms into a system that is opaque and often frustratingly uncommunicative. Culpepper shared a March email exchange between an interpreter he has sponsored and the U.S. embassy in Kabul as an example of the real problems that continue, despite optimism from State Department officials.

An articulate four-paragraph email from the interpreter inquires why his application was labeled refused, refers to a letter of endorsement from Culpepper and asks whether his application status will change, having submitted a U.S. address, which was previously missing from his application. The email took considerable time to draft for the interpreter and for the lawyers from IRAP who helped him, Culpepper said.

The embassy sent a one-sentence response.

“Dear Applicant: Thank you for your email,” it reads. “Your [sic] need to provide us with U.S address. And please check the status of your case online.”

Read the full cover story here. And tell us: do you have a story about an interpreter you worked with?

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