Air Force working to exempt Iraqi pilots from Trump immigration ban
By TARA COPP | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 31, 2017
WASHINGTON – The Air Force is working with the State Department and Pentagon to identify and obtain exemptions for dozens of Iraqi pilots who are training in the United States to ensure they are not affected by President Donald Trump’s immigration ban.
There are about 30 Iraqi pilots training with the 162nd Wing of Arizona’s Air National Guard at Tucson International Airport, said Col. Pat Ryder, an Air Force spokesman. The latest class of pilots is the most recent group in an ongoing training exchange that the United States is operating to assist Iraq in its fight against the Islamic State group, he said.
On Friday, Trump signed an immigration order at the Pentagon that temporarily bans any visa or refugee travel from Iraq and six other predominantly Muslim countries, including Syria. On Monday, the Pentagon said it was compiling a list of potentially thousands of Iraqis who have served as translators and fought alongside U.S. troops and would work to exempt them from the ban.
Ryder said Tuesday that the Air Force would similarly seek exemption for the Iraqi pilots.
“We are working with [the Defense Department] and the State Department to find a way to ensure that those pilots can get to their training in Arizona,” Ryder said. “We’ll continue to work very hard to try and make that happen and I’m confident that we will.”
Ryder said it is a good idea to allow Iraqi pilots to come into the United States for training despite the ban.
“The Iraqi military is obviously a very close partner, for obvious reasons, in the fight against the Islamic State [group],” he said. “We’re fighting in Iraq, helping the Iraqis fight. So it just makes sense.”