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A recent NPR newscast (listen) featured the story of an Iraqi named Narwaz who risked his life helping the US military as a translator, but spent nearly two years cutting through the bureaucratic red tape before being granted political asylum with his family in the United States. The story caught the attention of Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) who offered to assist Narwaz when he visited the congressman at his office on Capitol Hill.

Legislation such as the “Repair Act”, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Israel, is designed to ease some of the burden off of Iraqi allies like Narwaz who are seeking asylum in the United States. This particular bill would allow processing of asylum requests to take place inside of Iraq, specifically in Baghdad, rather than in neighboring Arab states. Benefits would also be provided to approved applicants as it can cost up to $20,000 for the relocation of refugees (a point underscored by this op-ed featuring another Iraqi translator). Nevertheless, the “Repair Act” and similar legislation seeking to ease restrictions on Iraqi immigration face strong opposition by some who worry about the financial windfall and the prospect that easing the process could endanger US security.

State Deparment and Homeland Security officials announced that US Embassy in Baghdad local staff and their families would soon be able to submit refugee applications directly to the US government. This circumvents the established route through the UN, which often means travel to a third country and the expenditure of thousands of dollars. While this is a welcome development, AP outlines what the announcement means to others waiting for help:

But possibly tens of thousands more at-risk Iraqis — those who worked for private contractors, aid agencies or media outlets and their relatives — won’t be eligible due to objections from the Homeland Security Department, which fears that terrorists might use it to slip into the country, the officials said.

Homeland Security is effectively blocking contract employees, like drivers, translators, technicians, from benefiting from the initiative by insisting they provide official U.S. references and sponsors before applying for resettlement, a more stringent standard than for direct hires and even those in the U.N. system, according to the officials.

Meeting that higher bar will be almost impossible for many whose work for private U.S. employers in Iraq ended months or years ago, the officials said.

Without further efforts to ease immigration restrictions, the Bush administration’s stated goal of admitting 12,000 Iraqis over the next year seems in peril. As the article, goes on to describe:

[Admitting 12,000 Iraqis] would be a more than sevenfold increase in the 1,608 admitted in fiscal year 2007.

Last month — the first of the new budget year — only 450 Iraqis were allowed in, less than half the monthly average of 1,000 needed to reach the target.

Read the full article here.


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