Keeping promise right thing to do
In that spirit, we recommend Trump pay attention to another group that should not be left behind: thousands of Iraqis who served alongside Americans in war.
Congress approved special immigrant visas for translators and others who worked directly with American troops in Iraq. That programme expired in 2014, but a related programme is still on the books for a broader set of Iraqis who worked closely with the United States Government, including contractors, journalists and employees of non-governmental organisations who believe they or their families are at risk.
This channel, known as the Direct Access Programme, allows eligible Iraqis to apply for refugee status in the US with their families. The programme waived two requirements for refugees elsewhere: that they be located outside their country and be recommended by the United Nations.
The programme didn’t guarantee admission, but it at least offered a pathway and a hope to those who risked their lives during the war.
Now, the programme is a mess. According to a Reuters account, as of the end of July, there were about 100,000 Iraqis who had applied and are at various stages of the process.
But as of August 15, only 48 Iraqis had been admitted under the programme to the United States in this fiscal year. More than 3,000 had last year, and about 5,100 came in 2016. The promise of a new life has been reduced to a pathetic trickle.
There are multiple reasons for the massive backlog, according to the International Refugee Assistance Project. In 2014, when the Islamic State was on the march, the US Embassy in Baghdad evacuated non-essential staff, including those who would have conducted in-person interviews for the programme.
At that time, 38,000 Iraqis were waiting for interviews. Other factors were the Trump Administration’s moves to slash the ceilings on refugee admissions to the US and the legal wrangling over Trump’s executive orders barring nationals of certain countries from entry.
According to Reuters, the backlog in the Direct Access Programme has grown so severe that the Pentagon has complained of the impact on operations in Iraq and other war zones.
And it should: who will help the United States in the next war if it leaves its friends and allies on the battlefield in the last one?
Trump prizes loyalty. One way he could repay the loyalty of these Iraqis is to remove the Direct Access Programme from the overall refugee ceiling of 45,000 for fiscal 2018, creating some breathing room for the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have applied.
He should also order the Government to fix the bureaucratic mess and clear up the backlog.
These Iraqis withstood risks to their lives and those of their families to help Americans in a time of need. Clearing the pathway to possible refugee admission, as the programme promised, is the right thing to do.
Roland Skinner (1940-2018)
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