The editors of the Washington Post are lending their collective voice to the Afghan interpreters now on tenterhooks for American visas. In a New Year’s editorial, Washington’s paper of record urged Congress to rapidly approve the special immigrant visa program for those who “courageously served as the eyes and ears of the troops.”
“The point of the program and a parallel effort in Iraq is to provide visas to resettle in the United States for interpreters who have faced threats — or face them now — because of their association with the troops. The Afghan program, approved in 2009 for five years, expires this year. The recently enacted defense authorization law extended the program in Iraq but not for Afghanistan. This should be among the first orders of business when Congress reconvenes.”
Thousands are waiting after years of inaction by State Department officials. Some 5,000 are already in the pipeline but only a few visas have been approved so far. And not all may be approved, with more applications expected as U.S. bases close down in Afghanistan.
Those seeking visas must prove not only that they provided faithful and valuable service to the United States but that they have experienced (or are experiencing) a threat as a consequence of that employment. The risk assessment team evaluating visa requests in Kabul has been rejecting claims of future threat such as revenge attacks by the Taliban after U.S. troops depart. Post editors are asking Congress to consider “country conditions” as required by law to make sure that linguists can safely get out of Afghanistan with U.S. troops.
2014 will be a busy year for visas for Afghan linguists, and congressional support and encouragement is needed.
I’m chairman of the Red T (http://red-t.org/), an organization devoted to the protection of linguists in conflict zones. Like many in the translation business, we want to see to it that our colleagues are safe and sound. Please like our Facebook page and help us build awareness of the challenges faced by interpreters and translators in harm’s way.