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Iraqi visa programs expire in 4 days, leave thousands twisting in wind

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These are remarks made by Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)

In 2007, I introduced the first legislation to help the Iraqi and Afghan nationals who helped Americans in those countries, to try and get them to safety in the United States. These were the people who were interpreters, guides, drivers; people who performed countless tasks, without which our military, diplomatic, and redevelopment efforts would have been impossible. There was an implicit promise: as they risked their lives to help us, we would work to protect them when the American presence was scaled down.

Thousands of people are now threatened on a daily basis by people with very long memories. It would seem as though this shouldn’t be an impossible task. After all, these are people who risked their lives to help and serve Americans. If they had wanted to harm us, they had countless opportunities to lead people down the wrong path – to attack, assault, mislead – but, by all accounts, thousands of these people performed critical tasks faithfully, if not flawlessly.

What has not been flawless is how the State Department and Homeland Security has managed this Special Immigrant Visa program that we fought so hard to establish. It takes incredible effort to fight the bureaucracy, delays, and procedural hurdles that too often end in frustration. Approvals have been just a trickle, and there is no sign of improvement. Instead, the program could collapse. The authorization for the Iraqi immigrant visa expires in four days.

Iraq is a country that is on the verge of collapse. Violence is on the upswing, and these people have been left twisting. Many have been forced into hiding. Others and their families have not just been threatened; they’ve been killed. We have been unable to get anything on the Continuing Resolution to keep the program alive. And frankly, given the state of Congress right now, the Continuing Resolution doesn’t look like a very stable thing to pin our hope on.

There is a possible solution: a unanimous consent provision that will extend the program at no additional budget cost that would keep the pipeline open to accept visas until we can get back to meeting our moral obligation. It should be a simple matter to pass the House. There is overwhelming bipartisan support, led in the most articulate and forceful way by new members in both parties like Tulsi Gabbard and Adam Kinzinger, who are themselves veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. This bipartisan group of recent veterans has seen the invaluable service and sacrifice of these people, and feels a deep commitment to their safety.

Sadly, not everybody in Congress feels that commitment, that moral obligation. The House Judiciary Committee leadership has been passive, if not outright opposed. There’s no guarantee that there will be a Continuing Resolution. In fact, the odds are getting a little more remote by the day. If this program shuts down for even a few hours, it will set back their progress because of the cumbersome, convoluted nature of the program of security checks. People will be forced back to square one for approval; with their lives in great peril. I would hope the House Republican Leadership does not allow one or two people to veto meeting our moral obligation that has such broad bipartisan support. It will be to the enduring shame of this body if we can’t come together and protect the people we counted on in battle, and who are now counting on us.

This sad story is documented in Kirk Johnson’s recent book, To Be a Friend is Fatal: The Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind. The title really says it all: To Be a Friend is Fatal: The Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind. So far we have failed them. I hope the House will rise to the occasion, before it’s too late.

Thank You.