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1st Sgt. Eric Clemens “This is snowballing into a much bigger monster than I can handle.” SEE A VIDEO by the New York Times Magazine on Iraqis fleeing into Syria at READ MORE about the role of interpreters in Iraq at this New York Times blog: States, Hassan’s family has had to send her $5,000, she says, to pay her bills. Last year, her disability check went up $30 a month. She didn’t know she needed to inform the leasing office about the increase; when the apartment managers found out a year later, they said she owed $800 in back rent. Hassan faced possible eviction until Matsuda’s group raised the funds. Hassan says she was sent home yesterday from the hospital after surgery, just barely awake from anesthesia. Medicare wouldn’t pay for a longer stay. When she got home, a woman from Matsuda’s organization had to carry her on her back up the stairs to the apartment. The woman stayed all night. Choking back tears, Hassan says it’s humiliating to be carried upstairs on someone’s back. “I bring my medical reports to show the leasing office that I need to be on the first floor,” she says, “but it’s no use.” A new wheelchair sits in the corner, still sealed in plastic. Hassan’s apartment is too small to use it, and she cannot carry it up and down the stairs anyway. BEHIND A BLACK METAL GATE in one of Dallas’ rougher neighborhoods, the American Islamic Center doesn’t look like muchan anonymous building with beige vinyl siding and no sign. Yet it’s the hub of the emerging, still largely invisible, Little Baghdad. The center is one of the few places in Dallas where Muslim refugees find financial help and something arguably more important: a sense that they’re not on this strange journey alone. Nearly all the Iraqi families interviewed for this story say they feel isolated in America. Neighbors don’t say hello or “welcome.” A post-9/11 distrust, they believe, lingers. Iraqis often feel feared here. Not in the center. In the foyer, shoes are scattered in piles that lead to a prayer room. It’s Friday afternoon, and the khutbah, or sermon, begins soon. Kids play on the carpet inside as folks chat on the back patio with the center’s director, Cindy Weber. Yasein Ibrahim, a portly man, stands on crutches. In 2006, he was on top of a Baghdad building when a bomb exploded nearby. He fell two stories, landing on his hip. His wife Fozia has since been the provider for the family of seven. She’s found no steady employment since the family arrived in Dallas 15 months ago. They receive $650 per month from Catholic Charities of Dallas. That barely covers their rent. For other necessities, they come to Weber and the center. “No one truly believes until he likes for his brother what he likes for himself,” Weber says, reciting an Islamic maxim that guides her work. Giving to the poor is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is called zakat, the giving of alms. All Muslimsthere are over 30,000 in the Metroplexmust give at least 2.5 percent of their wealth to the poor each year. “The highest people in Islam are the most needy,” says refugee coordinator Waheed, who works with Weber at the center. “We call those people miskeen. When we do a good act, it brings them toward us.” Through the center, the Muslim community offers rental assistance, furniture donations, even cars. From food drives, they are able to buy groceries for 20 families each week. The center has a free weekend school, English classes and a prayer room. Though the center can make the difference between being homeless or housed for some, Weber says she sometimes feels ashamed to tell Iraqi refugees what she can help them with. That’s especially true, she says, for those who risked their lives for this countrysome of the approximately 100,000 Iraqis who worked for the United States. “It’s like our troops coming back,” she says, “and what do we have to offer them? It’s almost embarrassing that there’s hardly anything we can do for them.” “These charitable organizations bring these guys over and say this is your 1-94, this is your work authorization, now go out and find a job,” says Army lst Sgt. Eric Clemens of Dallas, who was deployed to Iraq five times. “That’s got to be very intimidating.” If any American understands how intimidating Texas can be for an Iraqi refugee, it’s Clemens. IN 2003, CLEMENS WAS STATIONED in Baghdad’s Medical City, a hospital complex. “The Army was given standing orders not to treat any civilian,” he recalls. One day a man came to the unit’s gate carrying a wounded little girl, and Clemens didn’t think twice. He had his medics treat her. The man carrying the girl was named Saad. The girl, Noor, was Saad’s niece. The next day, Saad reappeared. He told Clemens he was willing to work to repay the medical treatment. Clemens said that wasn’t necessary, but he offered Saad a job as an interpreter. Saad, it turned out, had been a computer engineer before the war. He spoke fluent English and French. As part of his job, Saad accompanied Clemens when he went off base. Unlike the soldiers, Saad and fellow interpreters had no helmets, vests, or weapons. “I’m walking along trying to dodge IEDs and stuff like that,” says Clemens, “and at least I’ve got a one-inch thick bulletproof plate on my chest, where he’s got a jacket.” After work, Clemens would go back to a secure Army base, while Saad and his family went home to their neighborhood, where they would eventually be targeted as collaborators. All the former interpreters interviewed for this story had “cover jobs” in Iraqno one, sometimes not even family members, could know whom they really worked for. But with five members of Saad’s family working for the Americans, word got out fast. Insurgents started with drive-by shootings and then launched hand grenades. Saad’s family began moving from one home to the next, night after night. Clemens sent security patrols to the areas where the family was staying, but he says, “It was like putting a Band-Aid on a broken dam.” During a drive-by, Saad’s sister-in-law was shot and killed. “So I rotate back to Germany,” Clemens says, “and I make a promise: If it takes me a year, if it takes me two years, if it takes me three years, I will do what I can to get the family out.” It took five years. Saad received refugee status and arrived in Dallas in June 2009. His brothers, Raad and Haider, followed soon after. They were placed in what Clemens calls “the worst apartment complex in Dallas.” After a few weeks, the apartment was robbed. Saad’s passport and $1,700 in savings were stolen. Not long after, the apartment was burglarized again. Because the brothers couldn’t pay their bills, the electricity was cut off. By December, Clemens was so appalled by their situation that he told the three men to move in with him and his wife until they could get on their feet. “He’s always trying to keep me safe,” Saad says. Clemens bought the brothers a car so they could look for jobs. On a sunny January day, Clemens, Raad and Saad are sitting in the sergeant’s living room in a tidy new 10 j THE TEXAS OBSERVER WWW.TEXASOBSERVER.ORG