Having served in Iraq, I know how many Iraqis have given back to assist US troops -- now it’s time for us to help them and we need Congress to help.
While serving in Baghdad in 2009-2010 during my deployment with the North Carolina National Guard, I got to know Mr. Z. He served as my Joint Security Station's (JSS) handyman and foreman of all the work projects going on at our small company sized outpost. Mr. Z fixed countless appliances, repaired and built showers, delivered beds and refrigerators for water, replaced frayed electrical lines which had caused minor injuries one soldier, coordinated the hiring of garbage men, mechanics, crane operators for the removal of barrier walls in the local neighborhoods, and helped to recover two stolen generators. Mr. Z always came to work with a smile on his face, delivered presents and food for the soldiers, and even surprised us with the gift of a Christmas tree to remind us of home.
At that time I was only a specialist Infantry soldier and it wasn't until after I returned to the states, completed my undergrad degree, enrolled in law school, and joined the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) that I learned of Mr. Z's other sacrifices. Before I arrived in Iraq, Mr. Z had served as a voluntary translator and intelligence asset, risked his life conducting surveillance of insurgent groups, and maintained a handful of small bases and outposts around Baghdad.
Mr. Z and his family (wife, son, daughter) are still in hiding in Iraq and are terrified of what may happen. Since the Iraq War began, the family has received death threats and been placed on a "hit-list.” Their home was invaded by members of the Mahdi Army, it was looted, and then burnt down as punishment for his assistance to the US military. One of the major threats Mr. Z has faced is the potential for kidnapping after a bounty was placed for his capture by local criminal and paramilitary forces which the government has be unable and unwilling to stop.
Through a program established as part of the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act in 2007, the thousands of Iraqi nationals like Mr. Z who interpret and work for US troops are eligible to apply for special visas to escape danger in their country. (Section 1244 of Public Law 110-181, amended by Public Law 110-242). A similar program exists for interpreters from Afghanistan. Since October 2010, Mr. Z had been trying to get approval for a visa, but because he was paid in cash as our handyman and foreman and interpreted voluntarily, it had been difficult to establish his employment without a written contract and Mr. Z had almost given up. However, IRAP was able to help and he was finally granted COM approval in May 2013. His Special Immigrant Visa resettlement application is now pending with the National Visa Center.
According to the U.S. State Department, only about 22% of the visas avalible to Iraqis under the SIV program have been distributed. Both the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and US Embassy in Iraq announced, "No matter what stage of the process you are in, all selected and eligible applicants must obtain their visa by [11:59 p.m. EDT on] September 30, 2013." Unless Congress extends the SIV program for Iraqis, Mr. Z and thousands of applicants who have fought for years to slowly advance through lengthy visa process will be immediately rejected. This expiration also includes all spouses and unmarried children accompanying or following to join the applicant.
The visa program for interpreters who provide vital services for the US military saves lives, but it’s due to expire on September 30, 2013. The people like Mr. Z who provide critical services and risk their lives to help us need and deserve this program to protect them from the dangers they face for assisting us. Please join me in calling on Congress to extend the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act before it’s too late for thousands like Mr. Z.
To learn more information about IRAP, please visit www.refugeerights.org. Also please note that some of our clients are LGBT cases, widows, orphaned children, and some are refugees that did not have a connection to the US military (these however come under a different visa program), but IRAP still tries to help as many as we can to resettle!
Charlotte School of Law
J.D. Candidate 2014