NEW YORK (MintPress) — While the New York Giants were feted with a lavish ticker tape parade after their Super Bowl victory, veterans of the Iraq war are waiting for a similar homecoming bash. They can at least take solace in the fact they are now safely back on U.S. soil. The Iraqi translators who were so critical to their work are still in grave danger. Just as there is no hero’s welcome for our vets, there is no help for our Iraqi allies.
Since 2005, U.S. military translators and embassy workers have been viewed as collaborators and targeted for death by insurgents opposed to the American occupation. When the last troops came home from Iraq in December, tens of thousands of Iraqis who had worked with them, many of whom had taken refuge on American military bases, were left behind and forced to flee or go into hiding.
Instead of providing them with a safe haven, the Obama administration has dramatically reduced the number of Iraqis to whom it is granting refugee status because of growing concerns about their potential ties with al-Qaeda. Members of the Iraq Refugee Assistance Program (IRAP) and other advocacy groups who recently met with Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough to discuss the issue say the administration is failing to meet its moral obligations.
“He told us that the issue was getting attention at the highest level,” says IRAP Director Beca Heller about the meeting with McDonough., “But they don’t know when it will be resolved and they don’t know if we’ll love what their resolution is.”
National security impediments
The clampdown on resettlement began after two Iraqi refugees who came to the U.S. in 2009 were arrested in Bowling Green, Kentucky last May, accused of plotting to send weapons and cash to Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Neither of the men had worked for the U.S.; both received refugee status for humanitarian reasons. Still, the official response was to re-examine the vetting process for the entire applicant pool.
As a result, while more than 36,000 Iraqi refugees were resettled in the U.S. between October 2008 and September 2010, only 9,400 refugees were resettled in 2011. In the last three months of last year, according to the State Department, just 826 Iraqi refugees were granted refugee status.
Special Immigrant Visas
That includes Iraqis who helped the military as well as other parts of the U.S. government operating in Iraq. In 2007, Congress enacted the Special Immigrant Visa program to facilitate their resettlement, authorizing 5,000 special visas annually. Yet the process has been painfully slow from the beginning, and only 3,317 were granted through 2011. Approval in the Special Immigrant Visa program is now taking at least a year.
The U.S. government never kept track of how many Iraqis it employed, so no one knows exactly how many thousands of Iraqis are still waiting to be resettled and how many thousands of those have visa applications pending. Last July, the IRAP put the estimate at 62,000 Iraqis, including 29,000 who worked for the Americans, plus their family members. The group now says it has been told that 19,000 cases were dropped from the process.
Conflict for Obama
The slowdown is an about face for the current administration. During his 2008 campaign, President Obama blasted the Bush White House for not doing enough to protect Iraqis who assisted the U.S. in Iraq.
Nearly two years ago, the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies (TLP) began calling on the administration to make contingency plans to protect Iraqis who worked for the U.S. as troops left, worried there would be an increased campaign of violence against them after the military departure. The group released a report, Tragedy on the Horizon, which examined the lessons of withdrawing from other conflicts, and testified before Congress, which later passed a bill attempting to force the White House to act.
“They ignored us, and they ignored Congress,” The List Project Founder and Executive Director Kirk Johnson tells MintPress. “It’s abundantly clear that this is not a priority for this administation, and despite any statements they might make, the proof is borne out in the numbers and the pace of processing.”
Now, TLP is compiling a new list to document what U.S. allied Iraqis are enduring while they wait.
“We’ve decided to say ‘enough.’ We are starting to share details that come to us every day,” says Johnson. “We will demonstrate that the assassinations attempts are happening, that the death threats are still an issue, and that people are still running for their lives at a time when it seems our government couldn’t care less.”