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Only 2 Iraqi translators who worked with US troops got US visas last year

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An Iraqi man answers questions from US soldiers with the help of an interpreter in Mosul in 2007
The Trump administration has virtually closed the door on Iraqis who worked as interpreters for the American military, issuing only two US visas to former interpreters last year, according to government statistics.

The interpreters have faced threats, abductions and attacks for their association with American forces, and hundreds have been killed by militants since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Former interpreter Shaker Jeffrey fled to Germany while awaiting admission to the United States, but he says that even there he has been targeted by the ISIS group's militants.

"I am a hunted man," Jeffrey, who has been waiting for a visa for 10 years, said. "If I return to Iraq, I will be assassinated."

A backlog of tens of thousands of Iraqis — who worked as interpreters or in other jobs for the US — have applied for admission to the US but have yet to receive a final decision, despite legislation designed to help them gain entry, according to refugee advocates and several former officials.

In fiscal year 2016, 325 Iraqis who had worked as interpreters were admitted to the US In 2017, the number dropped to 196. And for fiscal year 2018 ending in September, only two former interpreters from Iraq received visas, a more than 99 percent decline over three years, according to statistics from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

It remains unclear why the number of visas issued to Iraqi interpreters has declined so dramatically but refugee advocates and lawmakers say it appears to be a case of collateral damage from the Trump administration's overall crackdown on immigration and refugees. Under the administration's more restrictive policies, applicants from Iraq and other mainly Muslim countries are subjected to "enhanced security vetting."

The administration also has slashed the overall ceiling for how many refugees can be admitted to the US, lowering the cap to 30,000 this year from a previous limit of 45,000. That unprecedented reduction has lowered the odds for former interpreters even more, humanitarian organizations say.