Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Success Stories and the Road Ahead

Over the last several months, EPIC members have delivered nearly 2,000 letters to the Senate in support of Senators Kennedy and Smith's "Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act". This week, EPIC has been on Capitol Hill meeting with lawmakers regarding this legislation, which recently passed as an amendment to the Defense Reauthorization Act. This is a victory for everyone concerned with the refugee crisis. We are urging lawmakers and likely House conferees to maintain and strengthen the amendment's language as it goes to conference with the House.

Nevertheless, as
an editorial in today's New York Times argues, considerable work remains if the United States is to live up to its obligations by protecting our Iraqi allies. This editorial is on the mark. Iraqis often flee their homes in desperation and with much haste, giving them less than ample opportunity to gather their belongings and assets. As a result, they have little money to care for themselves. $18,000 to $20,000 is only enough to support a family of four in a country like Jordan for three months. Even the most expedient refugee processing takes at least three months, leaving such families with no funds for a plane to the U.S.

Ordinary men and women in our armed services recognize this situation for what it is and are stepping up to the plate. The NY Times editorial describes Jason Faler, an Oregonian Army captain whose Iraqi interpreter fled Iraq after his house was destroyed and he was threatened with death by the same captors who kidnapped and killed a colleague. Mr. Faler's interpreter made it to the U.S. with his own funds, which are now nearly depleted, forcing him to reside in Mr. Faler's basement. Mr. Faler has begun his own foundation ( to raise money for Iraqi refugees.

Here's more from the editorial:
Private efforts are immensely laudable, but this is a government responsibility. Some lawmakers seem to be waking up to that. The Senate last week approved an amendment to the labor, health and human services appropriations bill that would grant Iraqi and Afghan interpreters and translators the same relocation benefits as refugees for six months. Conferees are negotiating a final bill this week, and it would be a travesty if they dropped this aid.
The amendment the NY Times refers to an amendment introduced by Senators Cardin (D-MD) and Smith (R-OR) (No. 3400) to the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill. EPIC and the refugee advocacy community have been on the Hill this week to support this amendment and to strengthen its language.
Congress should also pass a bill sponsored by Republican Gordon Smith and Democrat Edward Kennedy that would raise the number of special immigrant visas available for Iraqis and Afghans who have worked for the United States from 500 to 5,000 a year for the next five years. The bill would also streamline what is now a tortuous process. This country owes this and more to the men and women who have risked their lives to help Americans.
Indeed, these are among the tasks at hand, and we should capitalize on the momentum in this country and in Congress to see them through.

Caption: Angelina Jolie listens to Iraqi Refugees; UN photo 08/2007


Matt said...

Nice write-up. I think it's good your organization is highlighting the need for refugee aid in Iraq, and it appears progress in your favor (and in the favor of the refugees) is slowly being effected. I agree with the NYT editorial and your thoughts on it; I was wondering, however, if you could link to your amendment to the DRA. I'd be interested to read it.

Tim said...

I agree the US has an obligation to help out the people on the ground but won't that just contribute to the brain drain and allow thugs to plunder and bully the country and its citizens who too poor in cash and US connections to get out?

Chris Breuer said...

Here's the link to the bill summary along with some additional literature. Be aware that the bill is in conference with the House, so precise language may change. Naturally, the refugee community continues to press for the strongest language possible.

I would argue that the brain drain occurs whether or not refugee assistance is available from the U.S. or other nations. After all, I strongly doubt that any Iraqi would voluntarily flee their country merely because they might be one of the lucky few that the U.S. helps.

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