SIV Recipient and VFAI Leader Maytham Alshadood Honored

blog_IMG-3722_300.JPGBy Travis Weiner 

On May 3rd, the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network presented an Immigrant Liberty Award to Veterans for American Ideals leader Maytham Alshadood. The award honors the outstanding contributions of immigrants and advocates in the Denver area. 

I’m proud to call Maytham a friend and thrilled that his accomplishments are getting recognized. To get where he is today, he has had to overcome a lot.

Maytham was born and raised in Baghdad. The war changed his life path: He was a student at the College of Veterinary Medicine in Mosul when secterian violence escalated there in 2005. That year, he made the decision to leave school and begin work for the U.S. Department of Defense as a combat interpreter. Over the next three years he helped to establish and train armored units in the Iraqi Army. In 2008 he came to the United States on a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) and resettled in Colorado.

As any veteran knows, transitions aren’t easy. But the challenges didn’t stop Maytham. He graduated with honors from the University of Colorado’s College of Nursing, where he researched refugee health. Today he saves lives as a registered nurse at the University of Colorado Hospital. 

But that’s not all. He was hired by the International Rescue Committee as an interpreter, a role that has included awareness-raising and advocacy for the refugee and immigrant community, including the more than 3,000 Iraqi refugees in Colorado. He also founded his own organization, Denver Refugee and Immigration Vitalization and Empowerment Project. Its mission is to empower refugees and immigrants to be their own advocates through civic engagement. Resettlement gives refugees a clear path toward citizenship, and that means they have the opportunity to be as engaged as anyone else. 

Maytham says, “It is our responsibility to advocate for public policies that are friendly to our own community. It is also our responsibility to do the same for our friends, families, and neighbors that may not enjoy the same privileges.”

Maytham was nominated for the award by two researchers who have been working with him on a project aimed at balancing the power dynamics between researchers and the refugee and immigrant community. When I asked him how it felt to be honored, ever modest, he called attention to the role that others played alongside him in securing passage of SB-87, the Colorado bill that grants SIV recipients and refugees in-state tuition. “It is humbling to be awarded for the work that we began less than two years ago, considering that someone else was being awarded for the work they have been doing for as long as I have been alive,” he said.

Maytham represents the best of America. He exemplifies why the United States should welcome refugees and immigrants, including those who were willing to risk their lives to serve alongside the U.S. military. 

Since the Iraqi SIV program ended in 2014, the only way for other interpreters like Maytham to come to the United States is through a direct application to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Yet this Administration has set the admissions cap for all refugees at a historic low of 45,000, and now halfway through this fiscal year, the United States is nowhere close to meeting that meager goal. To date, we have resettled a mere 36 U.S.-affiliated Iraqis, just 1% of the total during the same period last year. 

We can do better. And, as Maytham proves, our country would be better for it.


Travis Weiner is a U.S. Army veteran who served with the 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) from 2004-2009, with two deployments to Iraq. He is graduating from the University of Colorado-Boulder Law School in May 2018, and will soon begin work as an attorney concentrating in Criminal and Immigration Law.