Iraqi Interpreters Wait for Promised U.S. Visas

Los Angeles Times, December 29, 2011

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When he served as an interpreter for the U.S. military, Tariq lived on a secure base, safe from fellow Iraqis determined to kill him because of his service to America. But when the unit he served pulled out of Iraq on Oct. 13, he was dismissed and escorted off the base.

The U.S. government promised Tariq and thousands of other former interpreters that they would be first in line for special visas to the United States. But with the pace of visa approvals having slowed to a crawl, that promise rings hollow to Tariq, who stays locked in his parents’ home, working the phone and the Internet to track his application.

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The visa process, always slow and cumbersome, has bogged down further since two Iraqi refugees were arrested in Kentucky in May on federal terrorism charges that included providing material support in the United States for al-Qaida.

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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–20,000 through 2011. But through October, just 3,415 had been issued to Iraqis, according to the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project.

The State Department says 7,362 Iraqis who worked for the United States have received special visas over that period, but that total includes family members.

Through July, 62,500 Iraqis had applied through the special visa program, though many have given up and dropped out.

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In the meantime, thousands of former interpreters have been cast adrift, threatened by insurgents as they wait for the federal bureaucracy to act.

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