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Newburyport Daily News: Travel Ban is Personal for Moulton

January 31st, 2017

By: Ethan Forman

SALEM — For Congressman Seth Moulton, President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries hits home.

The Iraq War veteran worked regularly with Iraqi interpreters while overseas, and developed a friendship with one interpreter that even led to the man living with Moulton’s parents in Marblehead for a time while he sought asylum in the United States.

“I haven’t talked to him since the ban,” Moulton said of his friend, Mohammed Harba, “but I’m sure he’s appalled.”

On Monday, Moulton, D-Salem, said the temporary travel ban represents a danger to the United States.

“I think about our national security,”  he said. “I think about our national security every day. Anything that puts our national security at risk bothers me.”

The executive order, issued Friday, called for a 90-day travel ban, a 120-day halt to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, and an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees. It has sparked large protests at airports across the nation, including Logan, a large rally in Copley Square in Boston on Sunday, and condemnation by many on both sides of the aisle.

Moulton worked with Iraqi interpreters as a former Marine Corps infantry officer who served four tours of duty, twice as an infantry platoon commander and twice as a special assistant to Gen. David Petraeus.

Harba was Moulton’s translator in 2003, while Moulton was a lieutenant on his first tour, according to a 2007 Boston Globe story detailing the pair’s friendship.

Harba was a young Iraqi man who had been a university student with a good command of English. He and Moulton became close friends.

“He was one of my first translators in Iraq,” Moulton said. “We worked with each other every single day and he was absolutely critical to our work in Iraq.”

The pair even appeared on Iraqi television together in an informational program, making them minor celebrities in the region. But that also opened the translator up to further notoriety and scrutiny.

Moulton recalls how his translator came to him and said: “I can’t work for you any more because my family was threatened.”

Eventually, Harba was able to come to the United States on a Fulbright scholarship in 2005. While in America, his family was threatened so seriously they had to move to a different city in Iraq, Moulton said. For Harba, returning to Iraq would mean a death sentence, the congressman said. Moulton supported Harba’s asylum in the United States.

“While he was waiting for his case to be vetted, he lived with my parents in Marblehead,” Moulton said.

Harba became known around town. He spoke before the Rotary Club of Marblehead, and family friends taught him how to drive. He was treated by friends as they would treat a war veteran — which he was.

While he could not say where his friend was now, Moulton said Harba was not only putting his life on the line for Iraqi interests, but for America’s.

“To see the Trump administration throw him under the bus,” Moulton said of how he sees the ban impacting his friend. He said the Islamic State group is using this travel ban in its propaganda.

Even worse — those serving now in Iraq rely on locals like Harba.

“There is no question that Trump is putting the lives of our troops at risk for political gain at home,” said Moulton, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Moulton said he is trying to get a few more Republicans to stand up to the travel ban, as U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, have done.

“We need a lot more Republicans to find the courage to stand up,” he said.

Salem State responds to ban

Salem State University President Patrica Meservey issued a statement to the campus about the “significant roadblocks” students and professors across the country face in regard to Trump’s executive order. Salem State’s student body represents 63 countries, and the college was trying to assess what the travel ban meant.

“To those for whom the policy presents immediate concerns,” Meservey said, “especially with regard to visa status and the ability to travel, know that Salem State University remains steadfast in its commitment to you. The Center for International Education and the Human Resources department are available as resources for students, faculty and staff with questions about the new travel restrictions.”

Article online here.

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