United States must make room for immigrants like Laith Hammoudi

Laith Hammoudi, an Iraqi citizen who served as an interpreter during the war, is seeking to come to the U.S.
Laith Hammoudi, an Iraqi citizen who served as an interpreter during the war, is seeking to come to the U.S. Courtesy of Laith Hammoudi

In the years since the U.S. invaded Iraq, Laith Hammoudi risked his life to help deliver the truth to millions of readers of McClatchy newspapers, including the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

For five years, Hammoudi has been trying to come to this promised land, Sacramento specifically, with his wife and three children. Our nation surely has enough room for him. He and his family are exactly the sort of people this nation should welcome.

Hammoudi was one of tens of thousands of those ensnared in the ban imposed by President Donald Trump on travel from seven Muslim-majority nations, Iraq included. Federal courts have halted that ban, but Hammoudi remains in a Kafkaesque limbo, like other aspiring Americans. We don’t know them, but we do know Hammoudi from his work — which speaks powerfully and truthfully.

He helped report on the hopeful early days after the 2003 invasion, when business picked up, people sold books and newspapers, and U.S. soldiers and Iraqis played soccer on a dirt field in 108-degree heat. The Sons of Iraq creamed the Americans, 9-0. His most acclaimed piece was about Iraq’s national baseball team. What’s more American than that?

Later, he helped report for The Miami Herald and papers across the country about suicide bombings, civilian deaths and attempts to create working democracy in a land that had never known one.

As the last U.S. tanks left Iraq for Kuwait in 2011, Hammoudi helped describe for The Christian Science Monitor the deepening tensions by detailing how Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki detained a rival, the vice president. He helped inform readers of the Detroit Free Press and Denver Post in 2012 about how al-Maliki’s security services allegedly locked up more than 1,000 members of other political parties, detaining many in secret locations and using “brutal torture” to extract “confessions.”

On March 3, 2012, Hammoudi applied for the refugee resettlement program. He cleared a medical test last year, supposedly the final step, but still he waits.

Mike Tharp, former editor of the Merced Sun-Star, wrote an op-ed last month about how he came to depend on Hammoudi during his stint covering the war for McClatchy Newspapers, and about his bravery.

“Laith couldn’t tell anyone what he did for a living,” Tharp wrote. “He came to work and went home every day by a different route.”

Hammoudi sent Tharp a note last week about a bombing that killed 55 people in Baghdad. “I avoid taking my family out,” he said, “because I don’t feel safe and I am always afraid of losing them in a random explosion.”

If he gets to California, he will learn that the streets are not paved in gold. But we are a fair and welcoming people, and he and his children would have a chance for a better life. Hammoudi was a school teacher before the invasion. We could use teachers here, especially ones fluent in Arabic.

In the coming days, Trump will issue a revised executive order detailing who can and cannot come here. We urge that it make room for Laith Hammoudi and people like him who put their lives on the line for us. It is the least we can do.

Editor’s note: Editorials from other newspapers are offered to stimulate debate and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Tribune.