Block­ing visas for Iraqis who saved Amer­i­can lives

The Korea Times - - OPINION - By Trudy Ru­bin Trudy Ru­bin (www.philly.com) is a colum­nist and ed­i­to­rial board mem­ber for the Philadel­phia In­quirer. Her com­men­tary was dis­trib­uted by Tri­bune Con­tent Agency, LLC. We wel­come your ar­ti­cles for the Thoughts of The Times and let­ters com­menti

Apart from Ukraine-gate, an­other White House scan­dal revved up re­cently, al­most un­no­ticed.

The White House ef­fort to block le­gal im­mi­gra­tion shifted into over­drive. The State De­part­ment an­nounced last week it would slash the al­ready shrunken U.S. refugee pro­gram al­most in half, to 18,000 ad­mis­sions over the next 12 months, nearly elim­i­nat­ing Amer­ica’s his­toric role as a safe haven.

And the Trump team is try­ing to limit the im­pact of a re­cent D.C. District Court rul­ing that it end years-long de­lays in grant­ing spe­cial im­mi­grant visas (SIV) for thou­sands of Afghans and Iraqis who helped the U.S. mil­i­tary — as man­dated by Congress.

What kind of moral bankrupts try to shut our doors to those who saved Amer­i­can lives?

Here’s the an­swer: Th­ese moves are part of a cru­sade by White House ad­viser Stephen Miller to slash le­gal refugee ad­mis­sions to zero, if pos­si­ble. Even be­fore the lat­est move, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion had al­ready cut refugee ad­mis­sions this year by onethird to 30,000. (His­tor­i­cally, the num­ber used to be around 95,000.)

“With one fi­nal blow, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has snuffed out Lady Lib­erty’s torch and ended our na­tion’s legacy of com­pas­sion and wel­come,” says the Rev. John L. McCul­lough, pres­i­dent of Church World Ser­vice, a co­op­er­a­tive min­istry of 37 Chris­tian de­nom­i­na­tions.

Never mind that de­mog­ra­phers point out that U.S. pop­u­la­tion growth has hit its low­est level since 1937. With­out im­mi­grants, the United States faces a gray­ing pop­u­la­tion — like Ja­pan and Europe — that will be un­able to pro­vide suf­fi­cient tax rev­enue or work­ers.

Even more shock­ing is the White House will­ing­ness to be­tray Iraqis and Afghans who are at risk be­cause they helped the U.S. mil­i­tary.

Last week’s court case, Afghan and Iraqi Al­lies v Pom­peo, re­vealed that 14,000 Iraqi and Afghan ap­pli­cants for SIV visas have been wait­ing for years in dan­ger­ous con­di­tions. This, de­spite a le­gal re­quire­ment that their cases be de­cided within nine months.

Al­though the judge or­dered the gov­ern­ment to pro­vide a plan within 30 days to ex­pe­dite the visas, gov­ern­ment lawyers want the de­ci­sion con­fined to in­di­vid­ual cases, not the whole back­log.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion cal­lous­ness beg­gars be­lief. Many of th­ese ap­pli­cants and their fam­i­lies have been hid­ing for years un­der death threats. Mean­time, State De­part­ment data show that only 1,649 Afghans got SIV visas in 2018, a 60 per­cent drop from 2017.

As for Iraqis, the sit­u­a­tion is far worse. Those in great­est dan­ger — such as mil­i­tary in­ter­preters and their fam­i­lies — have been tossed into a huge pool of ap­pli­cants also en­ti­tled to visas be­cause they worked for U.S. civil­ians. That back­log has reached 100,000.

Un­der Stephen Miller, only 51 Iraqis were ad­mit­ted in 2018 (as com­pared with 10,000 in 2016).

“They (the SIV ap­pli­cants) served bravely in sup­port of our mis­sions abroad, and we promised them a path­way to safety in re­turn,” points out Deepa Alage­san, the su­per­vis­ing at­tor­ney who brought the suc­cess­ful court case on be­half of the In­ter­na­tional Refugee As­sis­tance Project.

Un­der pres­sure from Congress, 4,000 of the rare refugee slots will sup­pos­edly be re­served for Iraqis who worked for the U.S. mil­i­tary. But will they ever re­ceive them?

To un­der­stand the sheer cru­elty of the cur­rent im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem, con­sider the story of the al-Baid­hani broth­ers from Bagh­dad, who both worked for the U.S. Army.

Khalid Baid­hani was shot in the face and the hand, and his brother Wis­sam was threat­ened with death; his un­cle, also a trans­la­tor, was mur­dered.

The broth­ers made it to Amer­ica, thanks to Her­culean ef­forts by Army Re­serve Sgt. Peter Far­ley. Their im­me­di­ate fam­ily, par­ents and younger sib­lings, en­ti­tled by law to fol­low, went through five years of back­ground checks, quit jobs and sold a house, fur­ni­ture and car. They were set to ar­rive in Au­gust 2016.

The day be­fore their de­par­ture, the U.S. Em­bassy called and said they needed an­other back­ground check. They are still wait­ing, liv­ing in to­tal limbo, fear­ful for their lives and sub­sist­ing on the char­ity of rel­a­tives.

Now a com­puter tech­ni­cian in Alexan­dria, Va., Khalid told me: “If any­one finds out what we did, that’s it, my fam­ily is done.”

“I still feel proud of what I did,” Khalid says. “I am proud to be a U.S. cit­i­zen, and that I worked with the U.S. Army. I was a bridge be­tween the U.S. Army and Iraqis.

“But you feel guilty that you are the cause of their suf­fer­ing be­cause work­ing with the U.S. Army caused this to hap­pen. And I am not proud of the way the gov­ern­ment treats my fam­ily. I am des­per­ate to get them back.”

And get this: After eight years, the Baid­ha­nis have just been told they need to re­peat the whole in­ter­view/check­ing process.

De­spite the ap­peals of U.S. sen­a­tors, House mem­bers, and a Change.org pe­ti­tion with more than 135,000 sig­na­tures, the Baid­hani fam­ily is still be­ing de­nied visas. Along with thou­sands of other Afghans and Iraqis who helped Amer­i­cans stay safe.

In my mind, that is a scan­dal that tars Trump as much as any­thing else he’s done.

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