Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bush, State Department Continue to Fail U.S. Allies in Need

A Marine officer talks through an Iraqi interpreter (L), with the manager of a water pump project near Fallujah. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)In his eight days in the Middle East, President Bush visited six countries (seven, depending on how you count Palestine). Among the high points: he re-affirmed American support for a Palestinian state, called on Israel to return to its 1967 borders, and announced a $20 billion dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia. However, the President remained silent on the Iraqi refugee crisis.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos has conceded that the U.S. is falling far short of its goal for taking in Iraqi translators and interpreters under threat for working with the United States in Iraq. But contained within his public acknowledgement was something even more disturbing. Gallegos suggested that the State Dept. is counting these specially-designated Iraqis against it's commitment to resettle 12,000 Iraqi refugees in FY 2008.

In fact, Senator Kennedy and Congress recently passed the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act that requires the admission of 5,000 Iraqis through expedited Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) IN ADDITION TO whatever targets established by the Administration for Iraqi refugees. Furthermore, the Kennedy bill expands who is eligible to apply for SIVs beyond just translators and interpreters (a detail the major media outlets continue to overlook). The mechanism is also intended to help protect especially vulnerable Iraqis who belong to a group facing persecution.

Nevertheless, there is a reason why Iraqi translators and interpreters are getting most of the attention. According to
the Washington Post:
Thousands of Iraqi translators have assisted U.S. forces since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, risking their lives and leaving their families vulnerable to retaliation from insurgents who see them as accomplices of American troops.

More than 250 of the interpreters working with the United States -- or with U.S. contractors -- have been killed. But the U.S. asylum program for translators seeking to leave the country has fallen far short of demand and, at times, short of what other coalition countries have offered their Iraqi staff.
Unfortunately, the State Department is not only lagging far behind its commitment to resettle 12,000 Iraqi refugees, it is now trying to confuse that commitment with a separate requirement by Congress to resettle 5,000 especially vulnerable Iraqis through SIVs. The total target that the State Dept. ought to reaffirm is 17,000 for FY 2008, which is still a tiny fraction of the 4.5 million Iraqis who have been displaced. All of that and Bush's ongoing silence about the entire refugee crisis has us very worried. We'll be listening to his State of the Union speech, scheduled for next Tuesday (Jan. 29th), with great interest.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Maybe he'll say something in the "State of the Union" tonight? He may not be able to take on any grand schemes but wouldn't it be something if he could mention doing something to help these allies? Wishful thinking?

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