Tuesday, September 18, 2007

EPIC Guest Blogger: Jen Smyers on The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act

Jen Smyers is Associate for Immigration and Refugee Policy of Church World Service, an organization founded in 1948 to serves as the relief, development, and refugee assistance ministry of 35 Protestant, Orthodox, and Anglican denominations in the United States. From New Orleans to Iraq, CWS works worldwide to meet human needs and foster self-reliance for all whose way is hard.

Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) held a press conference today to stress the importance of The Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act(S.1651). Joining him were Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS), Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Joe Lieberman (ID-CT). In addition to having a bipartisan cast of Senators, what really turned heads were the prominent conservatives in attendance, including the President of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist; the Chairman of the American Conservative Union, David Keene; and U.S. Army Sergeant and Iraq War veteran Joe Seemiller.

Yes, you read that correctly: Senator Ted Kennedy alongside Grover Norquist and David Keene. When legislation draws support from prominent conservatives and progressives alike, it tells you a lot about the importance of the legislation.

In his opening remarks, Senator Kennedy declared, “America has a strong obligation to keep faith with the Iraqis who have worked so bravely with us – and have often paid a terrible price for it. Regardless of where we stand on the war with Iraq, we are united in the belief that America has a fundamental obligation…The target of the assassin’s bullet is now on their back, and our government has a responsibility to try and save their lives.”

Senator Brownback echoed those statements, and remarked, “It’s a good day when we can save some lives.” He also emphasized the need to act now, saying “we can not just wait for an end to the violence – we must help displaced persons in Iraq in the meantime.”

As a co-sponsor to the bill, Senator Smith emphasized the non-partisan nature of the amendment, saying, “this doesn’t register with a party, it registers as American, it registers as moral.”

Perhaps the most meaningful statements came from Sergeant Joe Seemiller, who served in Iraq in 2003. His translator, who he referred to as “Sam,” worked side by side with US troops in Mosul, Iraq. Despite repeated attacks on their base, Sam showed up for work every day and told Sergeant Seemiller that as long as he was alive, he would serve with his “fellow soldiers.” After facing several threats on his life, Sam fled to Syria, but not before insurgents shot his brother. Sgt. Seemiller has worked for the past two years to get Sam to American, but to no avail. He concluded his emotionally charged statements by saying, “there are only two types of people that would oppose this bill. Those who do not know all the facts, and those who can not see beyond themselves.”

The bill has gained broad support among both Republicans and Democrats, and is cosponsored by Senators Smith, Brownback, Lieberman, Biden, Hagel, Leahy, Snowe, Durbin, Feinstein, Obama, Menendez, Levin, and Voinovich. Click here to read Senator Kennedy’s statement.

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