Se­nate panel seeks asy­lum for Iraqis; flow stalled by ’03 se­cu­rity rules

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Jon Ward

Sen­a­tors on Jan. 16 urged a State De­part­ment of­fi­cial to ex­pe­dite the flow of Iraqi refugees into the U.S., a process that has been slowed to a trickle by se­cu­rity mea­sures de­signed to stop ter­ror­ists from en­ter­ing the coun­try.

“One of the rea­sons you are see­ing so few Iraqis come into the United States since 2003 is be­cause of an en­hanced se­cu­rity re­view,” said Ellen R. Sauer­brey, as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for pop­u­la­tion, refugees and mi­gra­tion pol­icy.

Dur­ing Iraqi dic­ta­tor Sad­dam Hus­sein’s rule, about 37,000 Iraqis were granted asy­lum in the U.S., she told the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee. Since Congress passed a 2003 law man­dat­ing stricter screen­ing of im­mi­grants, how­ever, only 466 Iraqis have made their way to Amer­ica, she said.

Mean­while, a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis has been brew­ing in the wartorn coun­try, Mrs. Sauer­brey said. One mil­lion to 2 mil­lion of Iraq’s roughly 27 mil­lion peo­ple have been dis­placed by an in­creas­ingly vi­cious sec­tar­ian con­flict be­tween Shi’ites and Sun­nis.

“We bear a heavy re­spon­si­bil­ity for their plight,” said Sen. Ed­ward M. Kennedy, Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat and com­mit­tee mem­ber. “Amer­ica must re­spond.”

Mrs. Sauer­brey said the refugee cri­sis be­gan to de­velop in Fe­bru­ary, when the bomb­ing of a prom­i­nent Shi’ite mosque in the city of Sa­marra height­ened sec­tar­ian fight­ing.

“I came into my po­si­tion just about ex­actly a year ago, and at that time, we were tout­ing the fact that repa­tri­a­tion was so suc­cess­ful be­cause most of the re­sources that we were send­ing at that time were to re­turn peo­ple. And a very large num­ber of Iraqis were re­turn­ing to Iraq,” Mrs. Sauer­brey said.

Mr. Kennedy and Sen. Arlen Specter, Penn­syl­va­nia Repub­li­can, pressed Mrs. Sauer­brey to do more for the refugees.

“Our na­tion is spend­ing $8 bil­lion a month to wage the war in Iraq. Yet to meet the ur­gent hu- man­i­tar­ian needs of the refugees who have fled the war, the State De­part­ment plans to spend only $20 mil­lion in the cur­rent fis­cal year,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Mrs. Sauer­brey said the U.S. gov­ern­ment is most fo­cused on aid­ing Iraqi refugees who have fled to neigh­bor­ing coun­tries but is look­ing at ways to al­low more Iraqis into the United States.

“We are look­ing at spe­cial visas, we are look­ing at spe­cial ben­e­fit pa­role, we are look­ing at some way to do spe­cial in-coun­try pro­cess­ing [in Iraq],” she said, adding that un­rest makes it hard to run a stable pro­cess­ing op­er­a­tion.

Two Iraqi men who worked with Amer­i­can mil­i­tary forces, and then fled their coun­try af­ter be­ing hunted by in­sur­gents, tes­ti­fied be­fore the panel.

One Iraqi man, us­ing the name Sammy and tes­ti­fy­ing be­hind a large wooden panel to pro­tect his iden­tity, was a 27-year old Sunni who trans­lated for U.S. troops in Mo­sul. He was tar­geted for ex­e­cu­tion by in­sur­gents and fled to the U.S. from Iraq un­der a spe­cial im­mi­grant trans­la­tor visa.

“My hope is that all brave Iraqis who work and brave so much will have the same chance I have to live in free­dom,” Sammy said.

Mr. Specter, the rank­ing Repub­li­can on the panel, said more should be done to ed­u­cate Iraqis about this visa, be­cause few know about it.

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