Special Immigrant Visas: The urgent need to protect our Iraqi and Afghan Allies

IRAP asks the US to Protect the Iraqis and Afghans who served with our troops.

The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act of 2008 and the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009 laid out clear baseline procedures for Iraqis and Afghans facing persecution as a result of their assistance to the United States. These refugees should expeditiously receive special visas (SIVs), allowing for their safe resettlement in America.

REFORMING & EXTENDING THE IRAQI SIV PROGRAM

The Iraq program was extremely slow to get off the ground- when the U.S. withdrew from Iraq, out of an allocated 20,000 visas, only a tiny fraction had been given out, leaving thousands of Iraqis to be forced into hiding when their bases closed.

In the fall of 2010, IRAP was asked to participate in a series of briefings at the White House with members of the National Security Council, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense on potential reforms to the Special Immigrant Visa Process. IRAP led a coalition of NGOs and attorneys in drafting a set of comprehensive suggested reforms to the SIV process. Ultimately, the vast majority of IRAP’s reforms were implemented, with IRAP working closely to consult with relevant agencies and administration officials on this issue. IRAP’s recommendations directly led to major program improvements, with a jump in Iraqi visas processed from 392 in 2011 to more than 6,000 in 2013.

IRAP’s Recommendations to the White House

But we didn’t stop there. With many Iraqi allies still stranded in the Middle East, waiting for visas or hoping to apply, the Iraqi SIV program was due to sunset at the close of the 2013 fiscal year. During the height of the government shutdown, IRAP worked with a bipartisan coalition to pass – by unanimous consent – a year-long extension of the Iraqi SIV program. The extension will allow tens of thousands of Iraqis to receive visas to safely resettle to the US.

FIGHTING ON BEHALF OF OUR AFGHAN ALLIES:

Congress made similar relief available for our Afghan Allies through the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009. The Act was designed to provide 7,500 Special Immigrant Visas over five years for interpreters whose lives are at risk because of their work on behalf of the U.S. military.  By the end of 2012, only 268 visas had actually been issued, and an estimated backlog of 5,300 applications languished at the US Embassy in Kabul awaiting approval. Last year, we worked with a variety of press outlets and legislators from both sides of the aisle to shine the spotlight on the troubled Afghan SIV process, leading to increased staffing at the Embassy in Kabul, greater accountability in the program, and an uptick in visa processing.

Read Afghan Interpreter & Service Member Testimonials

IRAP is committed to ensuring that the U.S. does not repeat the same mistakes we made with the Iraqi SIV program. Every day we receive emails and letters from Afghan interpreters and former and active duty U.S. Service Members concerned about their interpreter’s fate: according to a recent news estimate, one Afghan is killed every 36 hours due to their affiliation with the U.S.

That is why, in early May 2014, we worked with a bipartisan coalition of legislators to introduce legislation extending the Afghan SIV program into 2016, beyond it’s scheduled expiration on September 30th, and adding protected classes, including interpreters who worked for media outlets and major NGOs, to the program. We will work to ensure the passage of this legislation and the safe passage of the nearly 10,000 Afghan allies who are eligible to apply for an SIV.