Public service and patriotism are distinct characteristics by which we define the American identity. Those who sacrifice themselves, in one way or another, to serve the public good are celebrated and revered as Americans, through and through.
But the individuals who make these sacrifices are not always Americans, nor do they always live in America.
Rafed Alsaad is one of these people.
In 2003, as a citizen of Iraq, he decided he was going to work in Baghdad’s Green Zone, because he believed the US Army, “gave us freedom,” and he wanted to help. As we all know, the work was dangerous. In order to hide from insurgents, Rafed would change cars on his commute and hide his face from his co-workers.
Three years later, the militias found him. As they banged on his door, his wife screamed, “’Don’t open the door.’”
Rafed told me, “I thought I would be killed on this night.”
But they were lucky. Given 24 hours to leave Iraq by the insurgents, they gathered their two young boys and fled to Syria, where they lived for six years in a refugee camp.
In 2011, Rafed learned about a program that allowed Iraqis who helped American armed forces to apply for a special visa. Nine years after deciding to help the US Army rebuild Iraq, putting his life, and the lives of those he loved, on the line, on January 25, 2012, Rafed Alsaad and his family arrived in South Bend, Indiana where his family is thriving.
The program that saved Rafed’s life was the Special Immigrant Visa program.
The senator who cared most about patriots like Rafed was Senator John McCain.
According to the Congressional Research Service, in 2006 Congress enacted provisions that, “make certain Iraqis and Afghans who have worked as translators or interpreters, or who were employed by, or on behalf of, the U.S. government in Iraq or Afghanistan, eligible for special immigrant visas (SIVs).”
As the number of visas available changed over time, Senator McCain fought for the program. In 2016, the NY Times reported that as the program was up for renewal, “People are going to die,” was the message Senator McCain delivered to fellow Republican on the Senate floor. “Don’t you understand the gravity of that?”
Of course, this is just one of a countless number of times Senator McCain advocated for immigrants, refugees, migrants around the world. His voice will always be a clarion call of courage and compassion. His leadership will be sorely missed.
Which leads me to think about what it means to be honorable, worthy of honor.
As I think about his career and our times, there are few more worthy of honor or deserving of the title The Honorable, than Senator McCain.
Thank you, Senator, for all you did for migrants around the world.