MONTPELIER — U.S. Rep. Peter Welch is planning to bring an Iraqi national who served as an interpreter for the U.S. military to Republican President Donald Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday.
Trump will deliver his first address to Congress — and the nation — inside the U.S. Capitol Tuesday night as his immigration policies continue to reverberate in Washington and across the country. Welch, a Democrat, has invited Ahmed Alsaeedi, an Iraqi from Baghdad who served as an interpreter for the U.S Army and now lives in Burlington, to be his personal guest at the speech.
Many of Welch’s colleagues in Congress are also extending invitations to former interpreters and others who assisted the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan. Welch said he thought to invite Alsaeedi after a recent meeting they had and “my horror at the executive order, including in its original form, that it would have cut off access to safety” for people like Alsaeedi.
“Several of my colleagues are also doing a variation of this, but this was a spontaneous effort on my part. It’s because I met Ahmed. I have long had an interesting in helping Iraqi interpreters,” Welch told the Vermont Press Bureau.
Trump signed a series of executive orders late last month regarding immigration and border security. Those orders placed severe restrictions on immigration, particularly from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Iraq. Welch said the president’s orders would have prevented Alsaeedi, who is in the country legally under a Special Immigrant Visa, from entering the U.S. The executive orders are currently under a stay, issued by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Trump has indicated that he plans to issue revised orders, but has yet to do so.
Alsaeedi said he began working as an interpreter for the military police in November 2007. It was in 2011 that he applied for a visa to move to the U.S.
“I ended up getting the visa in September 2012 and then I came to Vermont in November 2012,” he said. “That was randomly picked for me. They asked me where I wanted to go. I had never been to the U.S. and I did not know anybody so I let them decide.”
Alsaeedi said he had dreamed of living in the U.S., but his work as an interpreter made it necessary because of real threats to his life.
“Since I was a kid I always wanted to come to the United States. I’ve always been close to the culture and I’ve always learned English. I like everything about it. I worked as an interpreter for the U.S. Army and I was a target for bad people, that I’m helping the U.S. Army,” he said.
Alsaeedi said the president’s executive orders and his immigration policy are a departure from the country he has known.
“I was really disappointed because I always knew this country as this different country, this great country, this welcoming country. When I see these changes happen really fast, I’m really not happy about them and really disappointed,” Alsaeedi said.
Welch said having Alsaeedi attend the speech as his guest sends a simple message to the president.
“Donald Trump may be willing to close the door on folks who help the United States but Vermont is not. I’m Vermont’s sole representative in Congress. My invitation to Ahmed is to acknowledge the respect that we have for him, for the service that he provided to our men and women in uniform,” Welch said.
Welch plans to introduce legislation Tuesday that would codify protections for interpreters like Alsaeedi and others who assisted the U.S. overseas as intelligence analysts, engineers and drivers.
“I want to make certain that we send a message to President Trump that he shouldn’t even consider cutting off access to interpreters,” he said. “It will expand the definition of people who would be covered,” Welch said. “There are other Iraqis and Afghans who provided vital services other than interpreting.”
“Those people are all in harm’s way as well,” he added. “All those folks who did so much for us are in great jeopardy.”