By Shaun Boyd
DENVER (CBS4) – Some military veterans are coming together for Iraqis and Afghans who put their lives on the line to help as translators in the Middle East.
The vets are fighting for a bill at the state capitol that would grant in-state college tuition to refugees, including foreign nationals from Afghanistan and Iraq who helped interpret for U.S. soldiers and diplomats.
Maytham Alshadood is one of those translators. In 2005, he risked his life and the lives of his family members to be an interpreter for the U.S. military in Baghdad.
“It is really dangerous for us to do that work because we were targeted by insurgents and we were labeled as traitors,” he said.
In return for his service, he received a special immigrant visa that brought him to Colorado, where veterans receive in-state college tuition. But Alshadood – who fought side-by-side with American soldiers for nearly three years – was told he wasn’t a veteran nor a Coloradan.
“I fought for this country and, because of that work, my life was in danger, and I had to uproot from my home country and to a place I would call home and when I go to apply for school, they tell me I’m an out-of-state student,” he said.
Army veteran Travis Weiner says Alshadood is as much a veteran as he is.
“These folks sweat, bled and died along side us, in many cases saving lives,” he said.
Weiner, a member of Vets for American Ideals, joined other veterans at the capitol to testify in favor of a bill that would make refugees like Alshadood eligible for in-state tuition without waiting a year to establish residency.
“As veterans, members of the military, we never leave anyone behind – it’s kind of our creed – and these folks are being left behind,” said Weiner.
Bill sponsor, Sen. Steve Fenberg, says his bill is about human rights, noting that all of the refugees have been extensively vetted and many are qualified for jobs here, but are lacking a degree.
“I think it’s important that we give them the opportunity to pursue a degree just like every other Coloradan because that’s what they are, legally settled in the state of Colorado by the federal government,” Fenberg said.
Alshadood is a U.S. citizen today and a transplant nurse at University Hospital.
“We always work against resistance, but with persistence we’ll get somewhere,” he said.
The bill passed its first committee unanimously Monday night.
About 17,000 refugees have been placed in Colorado over the last 12 years.