19 REPUBLICAN AND DEMOCRATIC U.S. REPRESENTATIVES ASK PRESIDENT OBAMA TO
EXTEND AND REFORM VISA PROGRAMS FOR IRAQI AND AFGHAN ALLIES
“The U.S. has a responsibility to follow through on our promise to protect those Iraqis and Afghans who have risked their lives to aid our troops and protect America’s security.” – 19 U.S. Representatives
New York, NY – A bipartisan group of 19 U.S. representatives has asked President Barack Obama to help protect Iraqi and Afghan citizens now in grave danger because of their support for the U.S. military. In a letter sent today, the legislators – including six veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – urged President Obama to support extending and reforming visa programs that allow vulnerable military allies to immigrate to the U.S.
“The U.S. has a responsibility to follow through on our promise to protect those Iraqis and Afghans who have risked their lives to aid our troops,” the legislators wrote. “The extension and reform of these programs is a matter of national security.”
The letter is signed by 8 Republicans and 11 Democrats, including U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Andre Carson (D-IN), Jon Conyers (D-MI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Chris Gibson (R-NY), Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), Dave Loebsack (D-IA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Ted Poe (R-TX), Dave Reichert (R-WA), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Adam Smith (D-WA), Steve Stivers (R-OH), Marc Veasey (D-TX), Peter Welch (D-VT), and Frank Wolf (R-VA).
Since 2002, the United States has employed tens of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan citizens as U.S. military interpreters. During firefights and at other times, these interpreters stand shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. soldiers, making it possible for U.S. troops to succeed in their missions. Unfortunately, these Iraqi and Afghan allies also become the targets of anti-American violence: U.S. military interpreters and their families are frequently abducted and assassinated by Al Qaeda, Iraqi insurgents, and the Taliban.
Congress foresaw this crisis years ago, when it created two Special Immigration Visa (SIV) programs that allow worthy Iraqi and Afghan allies to immigrate to the United States. Iraqis and Afghans are eligible for the programs if they have worked closely with U.S. personnel and their lives are now in danger because of that service. Unfortunately, federal agencies have issued only a fraction of the visas that Congress originally authorized. Only 12% of the visas available to Afghans have been distributed, and only 22% of the visas available to Iraqis have been distributed. In addition, both programs are scheduled to sunset soon even though the need for visas remains as dire as ever. Threats and assassinations have intensified since the U.S. shuttered its bases in Iraq and prepares to do the same in Afghanistan.
As we approach the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War and the permanent withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the U.S. has an obligation, acknowledged by these members of Congress, to protect those who risked everything for our missions. “As a U.S. Army officer, the most important lesson I learned is that no one gets left behind on the battlefield,” Mike Breen, co-founder of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, said. “These Iraqis risked their lives to keep America safe. Making sure that these men and women don’t get left behind is a part of honoring that commitment.”