The U.S. government promised interpreters and thousands of people who helped with the war effort in various areas of specialty that they would be the first in line for special visas to the United States. But as the pace of visa approvals has slowed to a crawl, that promise rings hollow for people like Tariq who served as an interpreter for the U.S. military, a job that has led to threats on his life on behalf of Iraqis. “I served the Americans very well, but now they’ve left me on my own, with no security. They’ve expelled us all from the only places in Iraq that were safe for us-U.S. bases,” he said. Even though the visa process is always slow, it has become even more so since two Iraqi refugees were arrested in Kentucky in May on federal terrorism charges that included providing material support in the U.S. for Al Qaeda.
The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act, passed in 2008, provided fast-track status for Iraqis who had worked for the U.S. government or military. The law authorized 5,000 special visas per year for a total of 20,000 through 2011, but the quota fell short in 2011. The State Department says 7,362 Iraqis who worked for the U.S. have received special visas over that period but that is not accurate since that total includes family members. 62,500 Iraqis have applied through the special visa program, though many have given up and dropped out. Applicants have been told to expect waits of at least eight months, but people such as Tariq applied two years ago and are still waiting for a response. Notwithstanding, a U.S. Embassy official in Baghdad had assured that recent changes in procedure would speed up the process. The State Department’s National Visa Center has been ordered to flag special visa applications for expedited actions, and a requirement that Iraqi applicants provide an original signature on certain forms sent to the U.S. has been dropped after Iraqis complained of logistical difficulties. “We are making changes, ordered at the very highest levels, that will help save time off the application process,” the embassy official said.
Because these individuals have provided vital support to American forces, offering valuable insights into Iraqi customs and tribal rivalries, accompanying U.S. troops on combat patrols, braving bombs and insurgent attacks, risking and even losing their lives in combat, and continue to face harm after leaving the military byway of threats being made on their lives by Iraqis, the U.S. government should make good on its promise and give them a chance at a new life in this country. After all, it seems they have earned it.