Iraqis who worked alongside U.S. troops during the war provided “essential mission support,” according to former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general who fought in that conflict. Iraqis served as interpreters, translators and guides. They “risked their own lives and their families’ lives,” Mattis said in a letter made public last year by Politico. “We owe them support for their commitment.”
We do. But President Trump is turning his back on Iraqis waiting for the United States to keep its promise of possible resettlement. The number of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis who make it through the severe vetting process to resettlement in the United States has been reduced to a trickle of just a few hundred a year. Now the president has authorized the lowest refugee ceiling in the history of the program, 18,000 total for the current fiscal year, which will make it that much harder for the Iraqis to win visas. This is a sickening coda to the war and a terrible signal that the United States will not keep its commitments.
A special immigrant visa program for the Iraqi interpreters, translators and others was closed to new applications five years ago, and those remaining – an estimated 110,000 – must apply through the Direct Access Program, a part of the refugee admissions process. In the refugee ceiling, the president set aside 4,000 spots for these Iraqis. But the number actually admitted is expected to be far less.
The strict security checks can stretch on for years and sharply limit the number who get visas. According to the New York Times, interviews have been slowed since the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and consulate in Irbil ordered all nonessential employees out of Iraq for security reasons in May. As a result, teams of U.S. officers go to Iraq on temporary “circuit rides,” and this also restricts the flow.
These interpreters and support staff did not abandon the U.S. troops during the war. One of them told the International Refugee Assistance Project last year that he had served side by side with U.S. troops in 2003 and 2004. “They became my brothers: they relied on me and I relied on them,” he said.
He should not be abandoned. This is a question of duty, honor and commitment – values so often celebrated by politicians but, in this case, cruelly forsaken.
THE WASHINGTON POST (AP)