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Why won't we keep promises on visas for Iraqis who helped us?

Here's a letter from six U.S. senators asking DHS Sec. Janet Napolitano to explain the freeze on granting special visas to Iraqis who helped Americans

Why won't we keep promises on visas for Iraqis who helped us?

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July 20, 2011

 

The Honorable Janet Napolitano

Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security

U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528

 

Dear Madam Secretary:

 

We write to request information and a briefing on the application process for the special immigrant visa (SIV) program for certain Iraqis.  According to the State Department’s statistics, as of March 31, 2011, four years after the expansion of the SIV program in Section 1244 of the Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, only 3,151 principal visas have been issued out of a possible 25,000.  For Fiscal Year 2011, only 154 principal visas had been issued by March 31, 2011, out of the 5,000 authorized.  Meanwhile, individuals eligible for this visa program continue to face grave threats as a result of their service to the United States. 

 

The Iraqis assisted by this program and other SIV programs risked their lives to help protect and assist the servicemen and women, diplomats, and other governmental and non-governmental entities that supported the U.S. mission in Iraq.  Delays in processing are leaving these Iraqis and their families vulnerable to retaliation, including death, for their service to the United States.  As the U.S. military presence is reduced in the coming months, this population may face an even greater risk. 

 

Thorough and rigorous background checks of all applicants for admission to the United States are essential, and vital to our national security.  However, the application process for the SIV program must also be conducted in a timely and transparent manner, with accountability built in at every level. 

 

We respectfully request that the Department of Homeland Security provide us with information on the following specific issues:

 

1) What is the size of the current backlog of SIV applications at the Department?  What is the average processing time for SIV applications?  What is the Department doing to clear the current backlog of SIV applications?   

 

2) What is the Department doing to create a more transparent and accountable process which informs applicants of application requirements, the status of their application, and upcoming decisions?

 

3) Section 1236 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 requires you to develop a plan with the Secretaries of State and Defense to expedite resettlement of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis at risk as the United States withdraws from Iraq.  What is the status of that plan? 

 

4) What is the current security screening process applied to each SIV application, including the types and number of security checks?

 

We request a written unclassified response to this letter.  We also request that you arrange a briefing for Members of Congress and staff to discuss these issues in greater detail.   Finally, we request that the officials who provide the briefing be prepared to discuss any similar delays in processing SIV applications for eligible Afghans.

 

Thank you for your attention to this matter. 

 

Sincerely,

 

PATRICK LEAHY                                                                 RICHARD G. LUGAR

United States Senator                                                             United States Senator

 

CARL LEVIN                                                                         JOHN F. KERRY
United States Senator                                                             United States Senator

 

RICHARD J. DURBIN                                                           BENJAMIN L. CARDIN
United States Senator                                                             United States Senator

 

KIRSTEN E. GILLIBRAND
United States Senator

 

cc:  The Honorable Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State

 

Trudy Rubin Inquirer Opinion Columnist
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About this blog

Trudy Rubin’s Worldview column runs on Thursdays and Sundays. In 2009-2011 she has made four lengthy trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Over the past seven years, she visited Iraq eleven times, and also wrote from Iran, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, China, and South Korea.

She is the author of Willful Blindness: the Bush Administration and Iraq, a book of her columns from 2002-2004. In 2001 she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in commentary and in 2008 she was awarded the Edward Weintal prize for international reporting. In 2010 she won the Arthur Ross award for international commentary from the Academy of American Diplomacy.

Reach Trudy at trubin@phillynews.com.

Trudy Rubin Inquirer Opinion Columnist
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