Extend visa program for Iraqi and Afghan allies

The News TribuneApril 2, 2013 

Being a U.S. soldier in a war zone is hazardous duty, but at least Americans know they’ll be coming home to a safer place when their tour of duty ends.

Iraqis and Afghans who worked with American troops and contractors as translators, drivers and guides – frequently at great risk to themselves and their families – have no such reassurance.

They often live among people who might resent the aid they provided and consider them collaborators. They’ve been targeted by militia groups and others for harassment, threats, kidnapping and even death. In 2011, one foreign aid provider in Iraq estimated that at least 1,000 of these workers had been killed.

Many U.S. troops deployed out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord likely owe their lives to the assistance provided to them by local workers. These men and women deserve to go to the front of the line when visas are handed out so they can relocate to the United States.

Congress created a Special Immigrant Visa program in 2008 to do just that, allotting 25,000 visas. Only 5,500 have been issued, however, and the program has a backlog of at least 1,500 applicants. It is scheduled to expire at the end of September.

Supporters of extending the SIV program claim that the requirements for passing the mandatory background check are overly onerous and unreasonable. They say many good candidates have been discouraged from applying simply because of the hurdles they face.

For instance, applicants must get recommendations from U.S. military personnel, fill out extensive paperwork and obtain a certificate from local authorities – whom many Iraqis mistrust. If an application is rejected, there is no process for appealing the decision.

Our past and current allies in Iraq and Afghanistan shouldn’t have to live in fear because of the assistance they rendered. As the U.S. winds down its presence in those countries, it should not forget the thousands of Iraqi and Afghan citizens who provided valuable service.

Extend the SIV program and streamline the process for application. That’s the least this country owes those who put their own lives on the line for our troops.

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