This Veterans Day, as we honor our nation’s men and women in uniform, we should also recognize the brave Iraqi and Afghan nationals who assisted U.S. missions abroad. These men and women, who served as interpreters and translators for U.S. troops or U.S.-based media and non-governmental organizations, are at particular risk and often targeted by anti-American groups because of their service to the United States.
Congress created the Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) in 2008 and 2009 to protect these men and women and their families, and to thank them for their service.
Unfortunately, these programs have suffered from debilitating backlogs that have forced vulnerable Iraqi and Afghan men and women to live in fear for years as they wait for their applications to be processed. Additionally, these programs require Congressional approval for reauthorization and additional visa allocation almost every year. This year, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) authorized the State Department to allocate 2,500 visas to Iraqi nationals. The Emergency Afghan Allies Extension Act of 2014 (H.R. 5195) allowed the State Department to extend an additional 1,000 visas and extended the Afghan program’s expiration date to December 31, 2014. These programs should be extended until all eligible applicants have the opportunity to apply.
Tireless advocates, like the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) and The List Project (TLP), have worked with the State Department to help reduce these backlogs and increase application processing speed. These positive developments allow for more Iraqis and Afghans to successfully seek refuge in the United States. However, because SIV applications are processed on a less predictable track than other refugee populations, refugee resettlement agencies often lack warning, funding and capacity to adequately welcome these heroes into communities in the United States.
Without additional extensions to these life-saving programs and funding to ensure that our resettlement agencies, communities and congregations can adequately welcome these brave men and women once they arrive to the United States, our nation’s ability to fulfill its promises to our allies will be severely limited. These people, who stood alongside us in their home countries, deserve a lifeline—a way to seek safety in the very country for which they put their lives in danger.
As we honor these men and women along with our veterans today, please consider raising your voice through the LIRS Action Center to ensure that these programs are well-funded so that these heroes receive the welcome that they deserve.