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'FNU' identity mistake hurts military interpreters

After risking their lives for the U.S. military, Afghan and Iraqi interpreters who gained special entry to the country are finding it difficult to get jobs, driver’s licenses and other basic needs thanks to an identity mistake in immigration paperwork.

After risking their lives for the U.S. military, Afghan and Iraqi interpreters who gained special entry to the country are finding it difficult to get jobs, driver’s licenses and other basic needs thanks to an identity mistake in immigration paperwork.

Several former interpreters who live in Denver have “FNU,” which also means First Name Unknown, on their legal paperwork.

Technically, in the eyes of the government, people like Ahmad, who still has shrapnel in his back after an injury as an interpreter, are legally known as FNU.

The FNU name has confused potential employers and people behind the counter at the DMV.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Ahmad said. “Every time I go somewhere…it’s kind of embarrassing.”

Abdul Mehdi said his wife has also been given the FNU name on her legal documents, causing a headache in getting her a driver’s license.

“This FNU thing, it’s a real problem,” Mehdi said.

The non-profit, No One Left Behind, which tries to help Iraqi and Afghan interpreters settle in the United States, says there are thousands of such cases across the country involving former interpreters and their families who have been given the FNU name.

“This is not a good thank you,” said Mica Varga, who runs the local No One Left Behind chapter in Denver.

Varga said the root of the mistake is difficult to pinpoint, but it has to do with passports in Afghanistan, which don’t use first and last names.

Somewhere along the line, someone within the system just gave interpreters and their families the “FNU” name while processing paperwork.

The cost to change a name from “FNU” can cost up to $500 per person, Varga said.

No One Left Behind has been conducting a clinic in Denver, with the assistance of other non-profits and groups to help the former interpreters get name change paperwork processed.

Varga hopes they can expand the same clinics in other parts of the country.