Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Imperial Presidency of Donald Trump: A Threat to American Democracy and an Agent of Chaos in the World?

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By Prof Rodrigue Tremblay

In order to obtain and hold power a man must love it. Thus the effort to get it is not likely to be coupled with goodness, but with the opposite qualities of pride, craft and cruelty. Without exalting self and abasing others, without hypocrisy, lying, prisons, fortresses, penalties, killing, no power can arise or hold its own.” Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), (in ‘The Kingdom of God is Within You’ 1894.) 
“The megalomaniac differs from the narcissist by the fact that he wishes to be powerful rather than charming, and seeks to be feared rather than loved. To this type belong many lunatics and most of the great men of history.” Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), (in The Conquest of Happiness, ch. 1, 1930.)
Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. ” Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th President of the United States, 1861-65; (N. B.: Originally found and attributed to Lincoln in a biography entitled “Abraham Lincoln, the Backwoods Boy” by Horatio Alger Jr., pub. in 1883.)
“Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged against provisions against danger, real or pretended from abroad.”James Madison (1751-1836), Father of the US Constitution, 4th American President, (in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, May 13, 1798.)
When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951), (It Can’t Happen Here, 1935, a novel about the election of a fascist to the American presidency.)
When 46.1% of Americans who voted, in November 2016, to elect a real estate magnate in the person of Donald Trump as U.S. President, they did not know precisely what they were buying, because, as the quote above says, we really know how a politician will behave only once he or she assumes power. Americans surely did not expect that the promised “change” the Republican presidential candidate envisioned and promised was going to be, in fact, “chaos” and “turmoil” in the U.S. government.
President Donald Trump (1946- ) has surrounded himself with three politically inexperienced Rasputin-like advisers, i.e. his young pro-Israel Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner (1981- ), advising on foreign policy and acting as a speech writer, and his far right media executive and chief political strategist Steve Bannon (1953- ) with an apocalyptic worldview, who is, moreover, a voting permanent member of the National Security Council (NSC). Stephen Miller (1985- ), 31, also a young inexperienced senior White House adviser, completes the trio. He is working with Jared Kushner for domestic affairs and is also a Trump speechwriter.
Stephen Miller (1985- )   Jared Kushner (1981- )
Three weeks after his inauguration, President Trump has turned out to be a much more erratic politician than could have been expected, even after all the inanities he uttered during the U.S. Presidential campaign.
I, for one, thought that once elected president and installed in the White House, he would abandon his tweeting eccentricities. —I was wrong.
Stephen Bannon (1953- )
In fact, for a few weeks after inauguration day, on January 20, 2017, before the nominated secretaries of various government departments were confirmed by the Senate, and anxious to ”get the show going“, the Trump White House behaved like an imperial junta, issuing a string of executive orders and memos. The objective, seemingly, was to force the hands of the responsible departments and of the elected Congress, and to bend the entire U.S. bureaucracy to its agenda. It may have gone too far.
Indeed, when the heads of important departments like the Department of Defense (James Mattis, right) and the State Department (Rex Tillerson) were confirmed and assumed their functions, President Trump changed his mind on many policies about IsraelChina, the Iran Deal …etc.
U.S. courts have also thrown a monkey wrench in the blanket executive order closing the U.S. borders without recourse to the citizens of seven Muslim countries (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen), for spurious “security reasons”.
Let us recall how the inexperienced Trump White House has created chaos during the first weeks following inauguration day.
• President Donald Trump has shown a propensity to govern by decree with a minimum input from government departments and from the elected Congress
A dangerous and potentially disastrous approach to government, in a democracy, occurs when a leader adopts the practice of governing by decree, without constitutional constraints, thus forcing the hands of responsible departments, of the elected Congress and submitting the entire U.S. bureaucracy to his will by governing as an autocrat. If it were to continue on that road, the Trump administration could turn out to be more like a would-be imperial presidency than a responsible democratic government.
This term was first coined by historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in his 1973 book The Imperial Presidency, in response to President Richard Nixon’s attempt to extend the power of the U.S. president, declaring “when the president does it, that means it is not illegal”. In my own 2003 book The New American Empire, I dealt with the issue of American presidents having usurped over time the power to adopt a policy of global intervention, and the power to launch wars of aggression at will, with a minimum input from Congress.
President Trump seems to want to outdo President Nixon in considering the White House as the primary center of political power within the American government, contrary to what the U.S. Constitution says about the separation of powers.
To be sure, other American presidents have issued executive orders and presidential memos early in their administration, but this was mainly to re-establish procedures that a previous administration had abandoned. They usually did not deal with fundamental and complex policies without debate, although many did.
In the case of President Trump, his executive orders and presidential memos have not only been multiple, they also have dealt with fundamental policies, without consulting and requesting the professional input of the Secretary and of the department responsible, be it on healthcare, abortion, international trade, immigration, oil exploration, justice, etc., and without producing policy papers to explain the rationale behind the policy changes and without outlining the objectives being pursued.
When such a development of governing by decree has occurred in other countries, democracy was the loser, and the consequences for the leader and his country turned out to be disastrous.
• President Donald Trump seems to be anxious to find pretexts to pick fights with other countries: For him, it seems to be the U.S. against the world
In a March 2007 interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, the future presidential candidate Donald Trump said that President George W. Bush had been a disaster in foreign relations and that he was “the worst American president in the history of the United States”, adding that he “should have been impeached” because he lied his way into a war of aggression against Iraq and sent thousands of people to their death. This is an assessment that he has repeated on numerous occasions.
However, ironically, President Donald Trump seems to be on the same track as George W. Bush regarding the country of Iran, using lies and false claims to pick a fight with that country, and in so doing, echoing the hysterical rhetoric of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has also recklessly insulted the heads of a half dozen countries, even going so far as to threaten the President of Mexico to invade his country. As to his criticism of President George W. Bush, it seems that really, “it takes one to know one”!
President Trump should be reminded of what he promised as a presidential candidate. In a foreign policy speech delivered on Wednesday April 27, 2016, he declared “Unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct. You cannot have a foreign policy without diplomacy. A superpower understands that caution and restraint are really truly signs of strength. Although not in government service, I was totally against the war in Iraq, very proudly, saying for many years that it would destabilize the Middle East.”
• President Donald Trump has been less than candid regarding the influence of the Wall Street lobby on politicians, including himself
During the 2016 Presidential political campaign, candidate Donald Trump was very critical of politicians who do the heavy lifting for Wall Street firms in Washington D.C. On many occasions, Mr. Trump said that Wall Street is a symbol of a corrupt establishment that has been robbing America’s working class and enriching the elite. He also tweeted point blank, on July 28, 2016, that Secretary Hillary Clinton was “owned by Wall Street” and that Wall Street banks had “total, total control” over his rivals Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz, implying that they were unfit for the Office of the President. On October 19, 2016, Mr. Trump tweeted that “crooked Hillary is nothing more than a Wall Street Puppet”, thus presenting himself as the populist defender of the working class against the financial elite.
But guess what? One of Mr. Trump’s first moves as President was to order the undoing of the banking regulations known as the Dodd-Frank legislation, which was adopted in 2010, after the 2008 subprime financial crisis. President Trump thus quickly answered the main request made by the very Wall Street mega banks that he had accused previously of corrupting Washington politicians. He went even further when he named a former Goldman Sachs banker, Steven Mnuchin,(right) as his Treasury Secretary.
Also, Mr. Trump has reached to the mega-bank Goldman Sachs for help and support. He name Mr. Gary Cohn (1960- ), president of Goldman Sachs, head of the President’s National Economic Council, thus making sure that Wall Street bankers will have a big say in his administration’s economic and financial policies.
Was his lambasting of his opponents as Wall Street banks’ puppets simply campaign rhetoric without substance? That is certainly a question worth asking.
• President Donald Trump’s continuous attacks against the free press and against independent judges who rule against his policies is an authoritarian approach to government and is a violation of the separation of powers
On Monday February 6, President Trump launched a barrage of off-the-cuff intimidating insults at the American news media, accusing them of “refusing to report on terrorist attacks”, without providing any evidence to back up such serious accusations. He has also attempted to intimidate judges who have to rule on the constitutionality of some of his decrees and threatened their judiciary independence.
Such behavior is a violation of, and contempt for the separation of powers clause in the U.S. Constitution and is a frontal attack against the free press.
This is not a trivial matter, because when an authoritarian regime wants to establish itself and avoid accountability, it usually attacks the legislative and the judiciary branches of government to pressure them to toe the line of the executive branch, and it tries to silence the very institutions that can put the false statements of politicians to the test.
• President Donald Trump has a mercantilist view of international trade, which is rejected by nearly all economists
President Donald Trump seems to think that his country should have trade surpluses on goods and services vis-à-vis other countries, the latter being saddled with trade deficits, whatever the overall balance of payments of the United States, especially its capital account, and whatever the domestic and foreign economic circumstances. This is economically false. That is not the way adjustments in the balance of payments of a country work, in a multilateral world.
When Donald Trump places all the emphasis on only one part of the balance of payments, the trade balance, he misses the point. For example, if a country lives beyond its means and borrows money from abroad, such foreign borrowing appears as an inflow of foreign capital in the country. Such an inflow of foreign capital causes an excess of domestic spending over its production, and that helps finance an excess of imports over exports of goods and services with the rest of the world. The capital account of the country shows a surplus, while the trade balance (more precisely the current account) indicates a deficit, thus balancing more or less each other.
The main reason why the United States is registering trade deficits is because it borrows too much from abroad.
This is partly due to the fact that the U.S. government runs huge fiscal deficits, spending more than its tax revenues, and borrowing money both from the private sector and from foreigners, thus increasing the public debt. Such deficits often are the result of tax reductions and of increased military expenditures. The fact that the world economy uses the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency represents an interest-free loan that the rest of the world makes to the United States, which allows the USA to have a chronic trade deficit. Mr. Trump and his advisers would be wise to understand these truths of international finance.
If his administration wants to reduce the annual U.S. trade deficit with the rest of the world, the U.S. government should balance its books and reduce its foreign borrowings. Trade wars will not improve the U.S. trade balance if the country keeps over-spending and keeps borrowing from abroad. They would only make matters worse.
For many decades now, the U.S. government has piled up debtupon debt while running continuous fiscal deficits, mainly due to the fact that it has been waging costly wars abroad, while financing such interventions with foreign money. This is a problem that American politicians must understand if they don’t want their country to go bankrupt. This has happened in the past to other overextended empires, and there is no reason why it should not happen today when a country continuously spends more than it produces. And wars do not produce anything, except death and destruction.
• Hopes of putting an end to the Middle East chaos have greatly diminished
One of the positive results of the Trump election was the promise to end the deadly chaos in the Middle East. During the presidential campaign and once in power, Mr. Trump threw some cold water on that promise.
Firstly, in his March 21, 2016 speech to AIPAC, he flattered his rich Zionist donors by announcing his intention to break with the half-century policy of most western nations that considers the city of Jerusalem a United Nations protected zone and an international city occupied by Arabs, Christians and Jews. He declared “we will move the American embassy [from Tel Aviv] to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”
Secondly, on Thursday December 15, 2016, to make sure that everybody understands that he is one-sided in the more than half a century old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, President-elect Trump announced his choice of a hardliner pro-Israeli settlements on privately-owned Palestinian lands for U.S. ambassador to Israel (in fact, David Friedman, his former bankruptcy lawyer). The new ambassador didn’t waste any time in professing that he was looking forward to doing his job “from the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”
And, thirdly, seemingly forgetting that he had criticized Secretary Clinton for proposing a similar dangerously reckless policy, President Trump announced, on January 25, that he “will absolutely do safe zones in Syria”, seemingly without considering if it was legal to do so without the consent of the Syrian government, and without consulting with the three principal countries (Russia, Turkey and Iran), which had just concluded a peace plan for Syria. He opted instead to talk to leaders of Saudi Arabia and of the United Arab Emirates— two countries known to be sponsoring terrorism in Syria. 
• The world is afraid of President Donald Trump: Doomsday Clock scientists have concluded that humanity is just two-and-a-half minutes from the apocalypse 
Late in January, the scientists in charge of the Doomsday Clock set the clock at just two-and-a-half minutes from the apocalypse, allegedly because of Donald Trump. They said that the businessman turned politician, with his disturbing and ill-considered pronouncements and policies, has the potential to drive the Planet to oblivion.
This means that they consider that the Earth is now closer to oblivion than it has ever been since 1953, at the height of the nuclear confrontation between the USA and the Soviet Union.
The existential threats facing the Earth now come from the loose talk about using nuclear weapons and the proliferation of such weapons, as well as the observed acceleration of climate change.
All considered, the turn of events since the election of Donald Trump has raised a number of fears that a lot of things could go wrong in the coming years. Many of the policies advanced by the Trump administration are the wrong remedies for the problems facing the United States and the world. In fact, many of these ill-conceived policies are more likely to make matters worse, possibly much worse, than to improve them.
Things seem to have begun to change somewhat with the arrival of newly confirmed secretaries in the decision-making process and new advisers. Let us hope that cooler heads will bring experience, knowledge and competence to a Trump administration that cruelly needs it.

Trump's EPA Pick Is Poised to Slide Past a Lawsuit Into Office

The “leading advocate against the EPA” may soon run the agency.

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President Donald Trump has a way with scandal. His biggest controversies are so huge, so ludicrously bamboozling, that they suck up much of the attention in the country. The smaller disputes facing  his staff can therefore slip by unnoticed. In his three-week-old administration, perhaps no man has benefited from this more than Scott Pruitt, Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the current attorney general of Oklahoma.

In the past week, Scott Pruitt has gotten sued by his own state’s ACLU, defied oversight requests from Senate Democrats, and ridden roughshod on his own state’s public-records law. In any other administration, that level of dispute might have made the front page. Now, Democrats will be lucky to cram it into the back of a news cycle before the Senate votes on Pruitt’s nomination at the end of this week.

This is a lost opportunity for anyone who cares about environmental protection at the national level. The nomination of Betsy DeVos, a Republican donor who appeared not to know about basic federal education law, led to constituents clogging Senate switchboards. But the EPA wields much more power over air and water pollution than the Department of Education does over schools. And unlike DeVos, Pruitt is a tireless and knowledgable advocate for his cause of cutting environmental protections. He knows the statutes that govern the EPA, and (like the Obama administration) he knows how to interpret them to bring about his policy ends.

If he sails into office later this week, then the mass of Americans who are concerned about the environment—but who don’t closely follow environmental news—may wonder how he got there.

The most famous Pruitt incident teed up this week’s controversy. In October 2011, soon after he had taken over as attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt sent a letter to the EPA, alleging that the agency was “significantly overestimating” methane pollution from the dozens of fracking operations in his state. He doubted whether the United States would save $30 million by adopting a new climate-focused rule, as the agency claimed.

By itself, this letter may not have been so odd: Republicans in oil-rich states often see an easy enemy in the EPA. What is unusual is that—as The New York Times uncovered in late 2014—the letter had not been written by Pruitt, even though it was sent to the agency above his signature and below state letterhead.
Instead, it had been written by lobbyists working for Devon Energy, an Oklahoma City-based oil-and-gas firm. Pruitt received the letter in an email from 

Devon, changed two sentences and a couple spare words, and apparently forwarded it to the administrator of the EPA with his own name at the bottom.
Devon Energy later donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Republican Attorneys General Association, while Pruitt was its chairman.

This is not a new scandal: The Times won a Pulitzer for that reporting in 2015, which was only possible through public-record requests to Pruitt’s office. What’s now of note is what apparently happened next. Watchdog organizations allege that Pruitt’s office implemented a plan to make sure this kind of investigation never happens again. The Oklahoma attorney general’s office simply stopped responding to almost all significant records requests starting in early 2015, they say.

Between January 2015 and last month, the Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal watchdog organization, submitted nine public record requests to the Oklahoma attorney general’s office. This week, it finally received a reply to its first request, filed more than two years ago: a set of 411 emails exchanged between Pruitt and local oil companies. That sounds like a lot—except that the attorney general’s office had initially said more than 3,000 emails were coming.

“It’s surprising to us that there were so few records,” said Nick Surgey, the director of research at the Center for Media and Democracy. Most of the records they received were mass newsletters and not the one-on-one correspondence they believe exists. And Surgey knows that some emails are missing: Three years ago, The New York Times published the text of at least 27 emails that should have been included in this week’s request but were not.
Meanwhile, Pruitt’s office has yet to reply to eight more public-records requests. The Center for Media and Democracy and the ACLU of Oklahoma are suing Pruitt’s office to force it to comply with the state’s open-records law. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

“This is entirely because of Pruitt that there has been this delay. He runs that office, and he could’ve said to his staff, ‘You’ve really got to clear the backlog. Let’s make sure there’s no cloud over my record on transparency,’” said Surgey. “That has not happened.”

The Oklahoma attorney general’s office says it was planning on fulfilling the Center for Media and Democracy’s open-records request before the suit was filed. “Our office continues to complete the remaining requests in the order in which they have been received,” said Lincoln Ferguson, the office’s press secretary, in a statement. “Fulfilling open records requests is part of our office’s regular business practice and has been in no way affected by CMD’s lawsuit.”
“The fact that they have now filed suit despite our ongoing communications demonstrates that this is nothing more than political theatre. The Office of Attorney General remains committed to fulfilling both the letter and spirit of the Open Records Act,” he added.

Many government officials run sluggish public-records departments. Pruitt’s case is different because he made open records part of his Senate testimony. Asked in writing by Senate Democrats about his communication with local agriculture companies, or about whether he had employed private counsel while serving as A.G., he replied with identical language: “Such information can be requested from the Office of Attorney General through a request made pursuant to Oklahoma’s Open Records Act.”

Pruitt could have provided those documents willingly or directly answered the Senate’s questions. He just chose not to.

Secrecy is not the only knock against Pruitt. As attorney general of Oklahoma, he sued the EPA at least 14 times. He tried to block mercury and ozone protections that he thought were too onerous. He sued on behalf of an oil company to prevent enforcement of the Endangered Species Act. His own website calls him “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”

His philosophy of regulation seems to rest on transferring the federal government’s power to enforce its environmental laws to the states. (When asked by Senate Democrats which rules issued under the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts he supports, he did not supply one.) But even as he was pushing for these changes nationally, he dismantled the environmental-protection unit within the Oklahoma attorney general’s office.

On his face, he will be the EPA administrator most hostile to the agency’s mission since the first years of the Reagan administration under Anne Gorsuch Burford. Burford left the agency after three years, unpopular and disliked, having accidentally won more power for the agency in the Supreme Court. (Her son, Neil Gorsuch, was nominated by President Trump to that same court two weeks ago.) 

When people talk about the virtues of environmental regulation, they often hearken back to the nightmares of the 1960s and 1970s. They cite the burning Cuyahoga River, smog-choked Los Angeles, and the thousands of early deaths through asthma and heart failure. The United States adopted strict environmental laws (and under a Republican president, no less) because of the horrors of that period.

But we are entering a similarly consequential time for environmental regulation. The price of renewable energy may soon finally become competitive with coal. The ongoing global solar-and-wind boom could transform both America’s energy market and its manufacturing economy. (Because turbines are costly to transport and depend on valuable intellectual property, they are usually produced within this country.) Solar and wind will lead to major-emission reductions from the power sector: a key step in the fight to mitigate climate change.

Whether wind and solar are allowed to change the U.S. energy market will depend on federal leadership across agencies. Pruitt, who was in regular correspondence with the fossil-fuel industry, does not seem like the ideal choice to lead the agency that holds the power industry’s reigns.

Perhaps that’s why the conservative-leaning Dallas Morning News has opposed him. “There is room, especially under a Republican president, to adopt a less-aggressive stance at the EPA than has been its posture under President Barack Obama,” writes the paper’s editorial board. “But there is such a thing as an over-correction.”

Pruitt’s coziness with the fossil-fuel industry, it writes, “could prove disastrous on a national level. And it’s just one reason why he’s profoundly unsuited to lead the agency charged with safeguarding Americans’ health and environment.”

ICE Raids May Scare Abuse Survivors Into Staying With Partners, Advocates Fear

Women have been targets of several high-profile raids under President Donald Trump

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President Donald Trump's mass immigration raids—which have swept up longtime residents with no criminal histories, including an undocumented immigrant with license to live and work legally in the U.S.—have also led to the arrest of a Texas woman obtaining a restraining order against an abusive partner.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in El Paso arrested the woman, who is transgender, on February 9, reportedly in response to a tip that may have come from the woman's abuser and live-in boyfriend, who had been detained earlier that week.

County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal told the El Paso Times that the woman's arrest may now scare other undocumented immigrants facing domestic violence to stay with their partners out of fear of being deported or separated from their families.

"Our clients come to us at the lowest point in their lives," said Bernal, whose office represents survivors seeking court orders against their abusers. "Many of them are so frightened of coming to us because of possible immigration concerns."

It is unclear if the woman was arrested while obtaining the order, or on the street, the newspaper notes, but she is now being held in the El Paso County Jail under an ICE detainer.

65th District Judge Yahara Lisa Gutierrez, who oversees the court that issued the restraining order, said ICE agents should avoid arresting undocumented immigrants based on their partners' tips, as this effectively helps the abusers.

Many high-profile raids under Trump's watch have targeted women. The arrest last week of Guadalupe García de Rayos, a decades-long Phoenix, Arizona resident and mother, sparked spontaneous protests as local community members blockaded a deportation van where she was being held.

And the New York Times on Wednesday highlighted the story of a woman who has taken refuge in a church basement in Denver, Colorado, out of fear of being detained if she shows up for a routine check-in with immigration officials.

Jeannette Vizguerra, who has lived and worked in the U.S. since 1997 and is known locally as an advocate of immigration reform, was caught with fake identification forms in 2009 that her lawyer says were acquired to help her get work. She has been able to postpone deportation five times since then—but under Trump, who has revoked Obama-era policies to deport serious criminals and instead made any undocumented immigrant with a record subject to arrest, her situation has grown more dire.

Vizguerra entered the basement of First Unitarian Society church in Denver on Tuesday night with her three youngest children. She had helped prepare the space three years earlier with other immigration reform advocates. Under federal law, immigration agents are to avoid entering churches and other "sensitive locations" unless they have advance approval or "exigent circumstances."

She ultimately chose not to go to her check-in with immigration officials on Wednesday, telling Times reporter Julie Turkewitz, "My intuition tells me that if I go in, I'm not coming out."

After skipping the meeting, she learned from her lawyer that her request for another deportation stay had been rejected.

Even Suspended, Travel Ban Puts Iraqi Interpreter’s Carefully Built American Dream at Risk

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By Megan Rose

In 2006, when I arrived at Camp Taqqadum in Iraq to embed with the U.S. Marines, I was immediately invited for tea by the unit’s interpreter. A quiet, exceedingly courteous father of three young girls, Haider told me how he spent three months at a time away from his family, but didn’t dare carry their pictures. He was a wanted man for helping the Marines, and couldn’t risk insurgents seeing his family should he be captured. [Editor’s note: To protect his identity, only part of his name is used in this article.]

Haider longed to get them out of the country, envisioning the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, Michigan — home to a large contingent of Arabs — as something of a promised land.
In 2009, he got his wish and quickly embraced the American dream, starting a small business and buying a house. In November, Haider, now 46, passed his immigration interview for U.S. citizenship.

But even though he is one step away from becoming an American, he is still affected by the 90-day ban on his countrymen — a status unchanged by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ temporary hold on President Donald Trump’s executive order. Though he has been in the country for eight years, leaving now would be a risk. That has quickly become a dicey financial problem for Haider, whose company buys damaged cars at auction, scraps them for parts, then exports them for sale in Iraq. The week after the ban, he said, he was supposed to meet a 15-ton shipment of auto parts at a port in southern Iraq. But it remains unclaimed because he fears if he departs the country he now calls home, he won’t be allowed back in.

“I’m not taking the risk,” Haider said.

After the ban, I had reached out to him on Facebook to see if he was okay, and he told me he was scrambling to find people in Iraq to help him sell his goods at a discount. He’s anticipating that he’ll lose a significant amount of money.

“I’ll do my best,” he said. “I have no choice.”

Haider’s immigration lawyer, an Iraqi-American named Farah Al-Khersam, had herself been detained at the border the day Trump signed the executive order. Even though she is a U.S. citizen and her husband has Canadian citizenship, they were held for hours at the U.S.-Canadian border. They were both eventually allowed to return to their home near Detroit, but Al-Khersam said she immediately called all her clients and told them not to travel.

“They might let you in, but maybe not,” she said she told them about the order that even now, despite several Department of Homeland Security clarifications, is sowing confusion and misgivings. She is also concerned that some clients, like Haider, might think it is safe to leave for several months and come back after the ban is over, only to find it has been extended or more restrictions have been added.

Like many interpreters who aided the U.S. military, and U.S. journalists, in Iraq and Afghanistan, Haider remains vulnerable in his home country. It was only years after I first met him that I learned his real name, instead of the nickname used by the Marines to protect his identity. His family, which now includes two sons, still lives in Iraq and the danger is such that ProPublica isn’t using his full name.

Haider told me while I was embedded that he accepted the risk of his work near Fallujah in the dangerous Anbar Province — hours from his relatively safe home — because he believed the Americans were trying to help. In Iraq and Afghanistan, where I reported for Stars and Stripes, I relied on people like him to help me do interviews in the field, just as the military and State Department did. The entire counterinsurgency strategy in both countries hinged on developing strong ties with the locals — something that wouldn’t be possible without those who, like Haider, were willing to defy death threats.

Haider came to the U.S. on a Special Immigrant Visa designed to help those who worked for the U.S. mission in Iraq and Afghanistan escape potential retaliation and start over. He was one of the nearly 15,000 Iraqis and Afghans who were granted the special status through 2015, according to the Congressional Research Service.

When Trump’s order first came out, there was immediate outrage from veterans and the Pentagon that Iraqi interpreters still trying to make their way to the U.S. were affected by the ban. In early February, Homeland Security said that Special Immigrant Visa holders could “apply for and receive a national interest exception to the pause upon arrival.” Officials did not respond to questions about how the exception worked at the border, what Iraqis had to do to apply for it, and how many have been granted or denied.

Ironically, the State Department has been routinely criticized by Congress for taking too long to process these types of visas — a lag time blamed in part on the security measures in place to vet the applicants. In 2013, a bi-partisan group from Congress wrote to President Barack Obama to decry the encumbered process that had kept more of the visas from being issued, pleading for more “efficiency and effectiveness.”

“Our allied military translators are quite possibly the most vetted individuals aligned with our military,” wrote Matt Zeller, a combat veteran and co-founder of No One Left Behind, a nonprofit that helps interpreters immigrate to the United States.

Interpreters like Haider have to provide a letter of recommendation from a military officer, in some cases from a general, as a first step to qualify for the visa. (Haider has recommendations on USMC letterhead from 10 officers attesting to his loyalty and dedication.) And interpreters are essentially vetted with security checks twice: once before being allowed to work alongside U.S. service members and then again when applying for the visa.

Zeller and other military advocates say the ban could have damaging long-term consequences, scaring off people willing to work with the U.S. military abroad. Marines are once again back in Al Taqqadum to help the Iraqis fight the Islamic State.

Back in 2006, Haider questioned the cumbersome process for Iraqi interpreters to get visas, wondering how after working closely with the military for years, the U.S. government still didn’t trust them. Now he finds that even after assimilating into American culture for nearly a decade, he remains suspect.

Despite that attitude, and the damage to his business, Haider feels warmly about his adopted home and hopes to bring his family to live with him once he’s a citizen.
“America,” he told me, “is a place of work and good chances.”