Hi folks! We are the team at No One Left Behind, a nonprofit serving Afghan and Iraqi interpreters who worked for the US military overseas in combat zones. We were founded by Matt Zeller, an Army veteran who is alive today because his translator, Janis, shot and killed two Taliban fighters in a firefight who otherwise would have killed Matt. This has always been a bipartisan issue and we are hoping to get an exemption before more lives are lost.

With yesterday’s Executive Order, the President has shut the door on thousands of foreign interpreters, our wartime allies, who served alongside our military since 2001. By enacting a four-month ban on ALL immigration of refugees, thousands of our Afghan and Iraqi wartime allies will be left to languish and fend for themselves against the very enemies we asked them to help us fight.

The Special Immigration Visa (SIV) program is considered a refugee program. The Afghans and Iraqis we allow to immigrate via this program count against the annual US immigration CAP. The blanket ban on immigration prevents these allies from reaching safety here in America.

A ban on Iraqi refugees leaves countless thousands to be hunted for their service to the United States. We now fail to keep our country’s promise to these Iraqi allies who've waited patiently for years for their visas. When ISIS and the Taliban find our clients, they torture and kill them and film their deaths as proof that America does not keep its promises.

If we commit to this, we will permanently harmed our national security. Our credibility will be forever neutered if not eroded. Why would any potential ally ever trust America to keep its word again? US soldiers will now die in future wars because we couldn't recruit the local support that is often the difference between life and death.

Moreover, this action imposes a lifetime moral injury on our Afghan and Iraq war veterans. Vietnam Veterans speak often of their half-century injury at having abandoned so many of our Vietnamese allies. Today, the President has cast the same injury onto the newest generation of American veterans.

For bios for our entire team, please visit:


Primary people responding to questions are:

Matt Zeller, Co-Founder

He is a Truman National Security Fellow and an adjunct fellow at the American Security Project. He is also the author of Watches Without Time (Just World Books, 2012), which chronicles his experience serving as an embedded combat adviser with the Afghan security forces in Ghazni, Afghanistan, in 2008. Matt received a Purple Heart for his service in Afghanistan and is a former security analyst at the CIA.

Jason Gorey, COO

Jason has more than a decade of diverse national security experience in both the public and private sectors, with specific focuses on intelligence, cyber security, foreign policy, and the defense industrial base. Mr. Gorey has held a career human intelligence position at the Defense Intelligence Agency and was appointed by the White House as a Senior Foreign Affairs Officer at the Department of State. As a military officer, Mr. Gorey is now a Defense Attaché (Reserves) assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency. Previously, he served as an Intelligence Officer assigned to 1st Information Operations Command (Land) and deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan with RCERT-SWA. Jason is also a proud Conservative and Trump supporter.

Mica Varga, Director of Resettlement Operations

She started working with refugee when she was 17 and is focused on much of the day to day resettlement tasks.

We will also likely have participation from some of our Afghan and Iraqi interpreters. Feel free to write questions specific for them as well, and we will let you know the background of the relevant interpreters. However, depending on the interpreter we will likely only identify them by their first name for safety (especially if they are currently in hiding in Iraq or Afghanistan.)

Please, ask us anything! Ask us about our military service, ask us about the executive order, ask us about refugee resettlement…….We intend to keep this going all weekend (you have no idea how little we sleep...)




Want to help?

Contact your Congressmen: http://nooneleft.org/saveourterps/

Sign our petition asking that the executive order provide an exception for our vetted military allies: https://www.change.org/p/exempt-wartime-interpreters-from-president-trump-s-executive-order-banning-immigration

Donate: www.nooneleft.org/donate

Articles about the Executive Order:

Cracked.com - http://www.cracked.com/personal-experiences-2448-these-soldiers-fought-u.s.-trump-just-banned-them.html

New York Times - https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/28/us/refugees-detained-at-us-airports-prompting-legal-challenges-to-trumps-immigration-order.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share&_r=0

Military.com - http://www.military.com/daily-news/2017/01/28/trump-refugee-rule-block-military-interpreters-us.html

Edit 6:30 PM EST: I'm running to a vigil and will return in two hours or so. I will pick up with questions then!

Edit 1:15 AM EST: Ok so we have been stuck at the vigil in Dulles for much longer than anticipated. Senator Corey Booker showed up after the authorities did not comply with a federal order as well as an order by the state of Virginia. All interpreters, refugees, and immigrants from "banned" countries are supposed to be released soon. I will try to catch up with questions via my phone in the meantime.

Comments: 44 • Responses: 18  • Date: 

mistyrain00119 karma

I am aware of this issue. Australia has also had a sketchy record on helping its intrepreters.

Why did our side in the War on Terror abandon these people? There can't have been that many of them that is was some huge financial drain.

It's also an idea with popular political support, it is not controversial to take care of these people.

So how did they get so left behind?

No1LeftBehind28 karma

Mica: There are have been many, many failings. I will let Matt give a longer answer as he has been calling Congressmen and yelling at them for longer than I have. There are a few primary issues:

  • Early on, the Special Immigrant Visa program did not have any requirement for how quickly they processed cases or whether they processed cases at all. They could take as long as they wanted, and had no obligation to provide any reason why they refused cases if they chose to. Around that time, there was a US official who believed that if we gave everyone working with the US visas, there would be nobody left to rebuild the country. Here's the problem: our guys who are left behind, they are not able to even leave their homes the threats are so severe. They aren't running for parliament - they do not have the financial or political resources to take over the country. Many of them started working for the military at 17. Since then, we have advocated for changes that were implemented that requires applications to be processed within two years, and requires that denied applicants be told the reason why they were being denied and given the chance to appeal as the application can be nearly impossible for an American to fill out in their native language, let alone filled out by a non native English speaker.

  • Islamophobia. Today they are being banned under the guise of vetting. One of the guys who did a live video for us yesterday is this guy, our friend Rock: https://www.change.org/p/united-states-save-rock-an-afghan-interpreter-who-served-with-us-special-forces

It took the US State department/CIA/FBI/Department of Homeland Security 7 years to complete all the background checks associated with his case. To tell these guys today "We're sorry, after 5 years of vetting you, you aren't vetted enough" is simply absurd. Matt also likes to say that these guys didn't just walk up to the base in Afghanistan and shout "We speak English, let us in!" They were vetted thoroughly before starting work. They had their phones tapped. They had their e-mails read. Matt was the intelligence officer on his base - he was the guy reading their mail.

There are so many people who hear "Afghan" or "Iraqi" and assume that they are scary Muslims. Our clients don't want to join ISIS or the Taliban, they fought against them on the front lines! If we want to fight Islamic extremists, what better group than Muslims who can quote the Qu'ran and who have bled for the United States? They are Muslims who can argue against the ideology that ISIS and the Taliban is sharing and who have thoroughly demonstrated their commitment to our country and our troops.

Unfortunately, there are some politicians who believe or represent conservative areas who hear Muslim and assume they're bad. And it's unfortunate because a handful of prejudiced individuals are leading to a lot of pain, hardship, and deaths.

  • In the US, Congress' budget office currently budgets the cost of the program incorrectly. It budgets that every single interpreter and family member will be on a lifetime of foodstamps, Medicaid, and welfare. The problem? These guys aren't even eligible for a lifetime of benefits. Depending on the area where they arrive, they will get rental assistance for up to 3-8 months and foodstamps and Medicaid for up to 8 months. That's usually it. If they start working (which by the way, most of our guys get jobs within 90 days of arrival) then the benefits are cut. We are trying to get this changed. Due to this miscalculation, each year Congress says "We can give xx number of visas to Afghans who qualify for SIVs." We would like to change the program so that anyone who can pass the background checks, submit the required letters of recommendation from US veterans, provide an HR letter, and otherwise pass the program is guaranteed a visa. Until we fix how Congress budgets for the program, that will not happen.

Edit: This has been a historically bipartisan issue and this is still the case. Both Ambassador Nikki Haley and Rex Tillerson stated in their confirmation hearings that they supported this program. We hope that the current consequences of the executive order are an oversight that we can get corrected.

Editx2: Matt is currently confirming another family (an Afghan interpreter family) detained at customs so his response will likely be delayed.

badbrains78715 karma

Hey guys! I just want to start by saying your organization is awesome and means so much to me personally. I served in Afghanistan in '11-12, and during that time my tarjumans/interpreters were some of the best people I've ever met, and at times my life was very literally in their hands. I've still kept in contact with many of them, and while a few have made it to America (one with your help!) the others are still waiting, and it's heartbreaking. Some have fleed to Pakistan and elsewhere to be safe.

With that being said, here are my questions:

  1. Why do you think this remains such an obscure, specialized cause that doesn't seem to be breaking through to the larger public consciousness? It wasn't even mentioned in the presidential election.

  2. How optimistic/pessimistic are you about the future of the interpreter VISA program being reinstated under this current new administration which is so hostile to the very idea of muslim immigration?

  3. How can I personally do more to help you? I've signed the petitions, donated money, shared endless articles on social media, but I feel like I'm not nearly doing enough as someone who still maintains contact with some of my Afghan counterparts. I'd love to volunteer in any way possible.

No1LeftBehind13 karma

Thank you so much for your support!

  1. From our experience, it seems like the interpreters fall through the cracks. They are not exactly refugees (even though the SIV program falls under the refugee program) and are not exactly veterans. So, there are only two or three organizations like ours advocating on behalf of our combat interpreters. It is also an issue that is nuanced, so fundraising for our advocacy and resettlement services has been difficult. We need the help of people like you to tell our story, explain the issue, and get people involved!

  2. We are optimistic that the program will be reinstated at some point - it has very strong bipartisan support. But, it is important to remember that these SIV applicants are currently being hunted by ISIS and the Taliban. A delay in the program for 120 days or more (which is what is in the Executive Order) would undoubtedly result in the deaths of some of America's closest allies.

  3. We would love to have you involved as a volunteer! Depending on where you live, we may be able to connect you with one of our Chapters providing direct resettlement assistance. If not geographically convenient, you can always help us remotely! To volunteer, please fill out our volunteer form here: www.nooneleft.org/volunteer

CommunityAlliance12 karma

After contacting Congress and signing the petition, what are the most important things for people to do?

No1LeftBehind7 karma

You can donate to support our advocacy, casework, and resettlement operations by going to this website: www.nooneleft.org/donate

You can volunteer with our organization as a family mentor, advocacy director, caseworker, fundraiser, social media guru, legal aid, job placement specialist, donations coordinator or in any number of other ways by filling out the form here: www.nooneleft.org/volunteer

You could hold a local fundraiser. We can help coordinate having a former Iraqi or Afghan interpreter, No One Left Behind leadership, or a celebrity (usually from the political world) attend and address your group. You can contact us here to coordinate: www.nooneleft.org/contact

toxicbrew9 karma

Which reprentatives and senators are opposed to this, and why?

No1LeftBehind11 karma

The primary politicians who have been documented in the press as resisting the SIV program have been Senators Sessions (who is getting a nice promotion) and Grassley, and Representative Goodlatte.

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/senate-afghan-visa-program_us_5759b1fee4b00f97fba79a16

Because the judiciary committee has jurisdiction over immigration-related legislation, Shaheen had to first clear the amendment with Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who heads the subcommittee on immigration.

Publicly, the judiciary committee members said they opposed additional visas for the Afghan translators because it’s too expensive, they have unanswered questions about the program, and there are still thousands of unused visas available.

But in a private back-and-forth with Shaheen and McCain, they revealed an alternative reason: They didn’t want a net increase of foreigners entering the country.

To be frank, the challenge of "there are still unused visas" is total garbage. Right now, there are about 1,400 visas available for 1,800 applicants in Afghanistan. Anyone applying for the SIV program today is guaranteed not to receive a visa this year even if their vetting is finished this year.

-sick_sad_world-9 karma

Thank you so much for this AMA. The first time I heard about you guys and your amazing work was on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

My questions are:

  1. Do you believe that sometime in the future, Trump would take a step back and lift his ban? If yes, how long do you believe it will take?

  2. Other than undermining national security, do you believe that there will be dire political consequences to what Trump is doing, especially when it comes to diplomatic relations with the countries in question?

  3. What do you think will give good exposure to your cause other than doing a reddit session?

No1LeftBehind5 karma

Thank you for your support!

  1. In the Executive Order itself, the timeline for the refugee halt is listed as a minimum of 120 days. It looks like the SIV program is included in this 120 day hold. We do expect that sometime in the future the programs will be opened again, but even a delay of 120 days will cost lives.

  2. We advocate on behalf of our interpreters and try not to comment on the politics of these issues. We trust that there will be substantial media coverage related to this question.

  3. We are always looking for options to get our message and story out. We have an active Facebook page (www.facebook.com/NoOneLeftBehindUS/) and try to do as much media as possible. Please let us know if you have any suggestions by contacting us here: www.nooneleft.org/contact

Kitschmachine8 karma

Will this actually change anything? Sorry, I'm Canadian and don't really understand the issue...but my boyfriend is an Iraqi refugee who was an interpreter with the U.S. army during the war. He told me that Americans treat him like shit and refused to help him when he got kidnapped by Iraqi militia and almost died. From what he's told me, US never gave a shit about foreigners they contracted in their military.

No1LeftBehind5 karma

The United States has admitted more than 50,000 interpreters and their dependents from Afghanistan and Iraq to date. The program has not worked perfectly (or quickly), but there are many Americans and American leaders who are passionate about supporting our wartime allies.

CommunityAlliance7 karma

No1LeftBehind7 karma

We are currently advising that no green card holders who came with refugee or SIV status leave the US until things are settled. It's simply too risky and everything we're hearing is that they will not be allowed to return to the US.

Jason_raheem6 karma

What kind of vetting procedure does the DHS conduct for those who still working for the USG? They say the vetting procedure may take longer than anyone could imagine (three to four years). I am wondering if DHS taking the same vetting procedures for those who currently work for the US government . If so, then why we have to go through vetting periodically? By the way it is as you mentioned the most strict vetting and background check ever applied on refugees. if i was not qualified to inter USA as a refugee because i couldn't pass the background check for immigration then how come i can work for the USG. This should be something reasonable otherwise it wouldn't be better than project proposals in iraq.

No1LeftBehind7 karma

Mica: Matt actually posted a long video yesterday breaking down the vetting process both overseas and for SIV recipients. I'll try to post a more detailed answer shortly, but here's Matt in his own words:


rickmuscles5 karma

What's your favorite story about the military and interpreters working together?

No1LeftBehind3 karma

Jason: The hundreds of stories I have heard of interpreters directly saving American lives are what stand out most in my mind. But, my favorite stories are about the cross-cultural lifetime friendships that develop between interpreters and the members of the US military with whom they have served. The bond that develops between people who serve in combat together is unlike anything else I have ever experienced.

kjfleming3 karma

Hello Matt, Jason, and Mica, I have been trying to find information on your organization throughout the day today. I am part of a small grant-making charity called All American Day Charitable Trust, which selects a different veteran oriented charity to support each year. We are currently screening potential featured charities for 2017. Other than your website, is there anywhere that someone can locate hard data on your programs?

No One Left Behind seems like it has an amazing mission, and your efforts are more important now than ever. However, without hard data concerning your efficiency we cannot consider you. We need to do our due diligence. Do you guys have a public IRS 990 detailing your revenues and expenditures?

No1LeftBehind5 karma

Thank you so much for your support. We are prevented by Reddit rules from posting our email address. Could you please contact us at www.nooneleft.org/contact so that we can send you all of our information and answer any questions you may have?

mensrea_miculpa2 karma


No1LeftBehind2 karma

We are a bipartisan organization and try to not think of this issue in political terms. But, we will continue to advocate for the SIV program to be exempted from the Executive Order.

thegreedyturtle2 karma

How deep will this affect the another of Trump's executive orders: the demand that the Joint Chiefs devise a plan to destroy ISIS?

No1LeftBehind2 karma

We are not sure how it will affect that order.

MurphysLab2 karma

This is a morbid question, but have you ever calculated the likellihood that someone in Iraq or Afghanistan (or other conflict zones) who worked as a translator / interpreter for the US (or Canada or other allies) gets killed if they aren't relocated?

If you've done the math, tell me, what are the odds? or the half-life?

No1LeftBehind2 karma

The only relevant statistic that we have seen was put out by the United Nations a few years ago, and it is likely out of date. It stated that 1 Afghan dies every 36 hours due to his support of US Forces.

Notapseudoliberal1 karma

What do you need to keep doing your work?

No1LeftBehind1 karma

We need volunteers and financial support.

To volunteer, people can fill out our form here: www.nooneleft.org/volunteer

To donate, people can follow this link: www.nooneleft.org/donate

gavroche18-1 karma

they got paid for the job according to the contract. what more do they want?

No1LeftBehind3 karma

That contract also stated that America will protect them if they find themselves under serious duress due to their service to America. To fulfill this commitment, the US Government created the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program exclusively for Iraqi and Afghans who provided significant and faithful service to America.

So, to answer your question directly - they want America to keep its promise to protect them.

FAKE_NEWS_-2 karma

As a retired Army officer, I have had more than my fair share of interpreters in Iraq be less than stellar, to put it mildly. I would not make exception for any of them. More so, I do not support this in anyway, shape or form. Since your organization wants to bring these local national interpreters to our country, I have to ask: what's in it for you?

Lauxman2 karma

The good news is, you don't have to write a letter of recommendation for them.

Many of us did, because our terps served us faithfully, and put themselves in far more danger than any soldier.

No1LeftBehind2 karma

Nothing is in it for us. In all honestly, we don't want to have to exist as an organization at all and our involvement in this organization has significantly disrupted our lives and careers. But, no one else was doing anything about this important issue. While not every interpreter provided valuable and faithful service, many did and deserve to be protected. Verification of their 'valuable and faithful service' - the actual language used by the SIV program - is a pillar of the program. The SIV program also already includes 'extreme vetting', as every major US intelligence agency needs to independently sign-off on the application and most of the applicants have been polygraphed.

To answer your question directly - the only thing that is in it for us is the knowledge that we are saving and supporting some of America's strongest supporters and allies. We also hope that our work will help to ensure that our brothers and sisters in future conflicts will have local national interpreters willing to support them.

idontknowiguess-7 karma

I am sorry for the inconvenience this action has had on your efforts which seem very honorable. However, I am not sorry for the action itself. Do you see in any way that this action is necessary by the president in spite of the negative aspect it brings to your efforts?

No1LeftBehind10 karma

We have heard the President state numerous times that his goal is 'extreme vetting' for anyone who comes to America. What we don't understand is how he and his advisors could not be aware of the fact that the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program established for the Iraqi and Afghan interpreters already includes extreme vetting and more. Also, the SIV program being halted is not just an inconvenience for these people - some of America's greatest allies will lose their lives as they continue to be hunted by ISIS and the Taliban. Not exempting the SIV program would seem to achieve the opposite of what the President intends.

mureni-11 karma

Where was this outrage when Obama did the same thing, or Bush before him, or Clinton before him, or Bush before him, or Reagan before him, or Carter before him?

No1LeftBehind21 karma

We are not exactly sure what you mean by your comment. The Special Immigrant Visa program for Iraqi and Afghan interpreters has existed for fewer than 10 years. This is the first time it has been halted by a President.