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John Oliver Calls for Extension of SIV Program

IRAP Recognized on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO: Translators

Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight featured a hilarious and hard-hitting critique of the U.S. Government’s Special Immigrant Visa (“SIV”) program for Iraqi and Afghan interpreters who risked their lives to assist the U.S. military. Oliver interviewed IRAP client Mohammad, an interpreter from Afghanistan. Mohammad was resettled to the United States in January 2014, after an SIV application process that endured nearly four years. Mohammad’s mother and seven siblings remain in hiding, awaiting a decision on their petition to join him in America. Overnight, Last Week Tonight’s compelling coverage has sparked significant public discussion and new petitions for reform.

“Things have improved slightly recently, thanks in part to pressure from groups like The List Project and IRAP. But it is still not moving nearly fast enough,” Oliver explained. He insisted the SIV program “should not be like a lottery where the odds are terrible. It should be more like a little league award ceremony, where everyone’s a winner.”

He also pointed out that the current Afghan SIV program is scheduled to expire on December 31st, despite the fact that thousands of Afghan interpreters are still waiting for visas to be issued.

IRAP urges Congress to act quickly to extend and expand the Special Immigrant Visa program, to ensure protection for our allies, like Mohammad, whose lives are at risk because of their work for U.S. forces. Currently, there are over 5,000 Afghans with pending visa applications, but almost no more available visas because so many went unused in the early years of the program.

We also urge the Administration, and in particular the State Department, to resume in-country refugee processing in Iraq, where 36,000 persecuted Iraqi refugees with U.S. ties are stranded because the U.S. Embassy deemed refugee processing “non-essential” and suspended the program following the fall of Mosul to the Islamic State on June 10th.

Oliver closed the interview by asking Mohammad “Is there a word in Pashto to convey deep gratitude for someone’s service, but also profound shame in how they’ve been treated?”

Katie Reisner, IRAP’s National Policy Director said, “While the State Department and Congress—and now HBO—have invested great effort into improving the visa programs for our allies, Congress must act to extend the Afghan SIV program in order to prevent the needless deaths of thousands of U.S. allies threatened by the Taliban.”