Over six years ago, before the List Project even had a name or an address, we began to meet regularly with Congressional staffers – principally in Senator Kennedy’s office – to create a legislative response to the willful betrayal of tens of thousands of Iraqis who risked their lives while helping the United States.
Congress acted. In passing the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act with bi-partisan support, the legislative branch articulated a moral obligation to our Iraqi allies, an obligation they decided to honor by creating 25,000 Special Immigrant Visas specifically for U.S.-affiliated Iraqis.
In my book, I wrote about the unbridled joy I felt the day the bill passed. A handful of us that had worked on the bill were patched through to Kennedy’s cell phone while he was on the Senate floor in the moments after passage. I couldn’t believe it: America had confronted a problem, and the thousand Iraqis then on my list would be safe within a year.
5 years have passed since that day. This coming Monday, the Special Immigrant Visa program will shut down, taking with it over 15,000 visas that were never given out, due to the incompetence and apathy within the Departments of State and Homeland Security, and within the White House. Iraqis have been assassinated while waiting for an interview with a yawning federal refugee bureaucracy.
Next year will see the expiration of the Afghan Allies Protection Act, intended for U.S.-affiliated Afghans, taking with it a similar percentage of unallocated visas.
We should be ashamed.
Over the course of this year, the List Project, IRAP, and many other refugee organizations have been pushing for a re-authorization of this program. We called Congressional staffers. We wrote pieces. We worked with journalists to raise awareness. Each success came with an asterisk. A 5-year renewal was included in the Senate’s Comprehensive Immigration Reform, which will go nowhere in the House. A 1-year renewal is included in the Defense Authorization Act, which won’t be passed before the expiration of the program.
It is difficult to describe the magnitude of effort required just to keep this sinking ship of a program from going down entirely. Even if it is re-authorized, belatedly, it would take something like 15 years to give out the remaining visas.
We are still receiving a steady stream of requests for help from Iraqis who are languishing in a system that seems designed to reject them. Afghans are now writing in greater numbers.
We oftentimes are asked what normal American citizens can do to help out in this cause. Today, there is a clear answer: please write to your Congressman and tell them not to let the SIV program for our Iraqi allies expire.
-Kirk W. Johnson