Last Wednesday, in a dramatic, last-minute gesture, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a bipartisan measure to extend the Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa Program.
Lawmakers took a break from their dispute over government spending and voted to extend the visa program for three months.
The program had expired last week at the start of the new fiscal year.
The Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa Program was created in 2008, and to date it has issued approximately 6,000 of its 25,000 allocated visas to translators who have served alongside U.S. troops. Upwards of 2,000 visa applications from Iraqis are currently waiting for approval. Many applicants fear retribution for having helped U.S. forces.
A stand-alone bill, sponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., with John McCain, R-Ariz.; Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C., introduced legislation to extend the program. “Among the many lessons of the Vietnam War is that we must not abandon those who risked their lives to help us,” Leahy stated. “We made a commitment and we must honor it. We must renew this critical program,” said Leahy in his call for swift passage of the bill.
Shaheen and McCain released a joint statement noting that even with all of Washington’s current “dysfunction,” this legislation “demonstrates that Congress can still work together to uphold our country’s promises and commitments.”
“Extending the Iraq Special Immigrant Visa Program will help those who helped us during a time of war,” the statement said. “Brave Iraqis who risked their lives to protect and assist American troops are now living under the threat of retribution from terrorists and militants as a result. The United States has a moral obligation to help those Iraqis who stood with our troops.”
Veterans, religious organizations and humanitarian groups have fought to preserve the visa program as immigration legislation moves through Congress.
Jen Smyers, associate director for refugee and immigration policy for Church World Service, said providing visas to Iraqis and Afghans is a responsibility that Washington must fulfill.
“They have to know that we have got their back if things don’t turn out well,” Smyers said. “If we can’t do that, it will not only hurt our military policy, but our foreign policy as well.”
“The enemy all along has been bureaucracy,” said Katherine Reisner, national policy director of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project. Check out their site for more info. And the next ‘Terp post will expose how those bureaucrats took a page from the Venetian Senate to ferret out translator/traitors.