The rapid and disorganized exit from Afghanistan by the U.S. a year ago left many people in danger under Taliban rule, including Afghan interpreters who assisted the U.S. military. Many of these interpreters refer to themselves as “blacklisted” and say they were unjustly barred from getting visas promised to Afghans who helped the United States.
Interpreters have said their visa petitions were denied despite receiving positive reviews from their military supervisors. In most cases, the denials came after the interpreters were terminated by the private contracting companies that hired them.
Special immigrant visas (SIVs) provide green cards to foreign nationals including Afghans under a variety of programs, typically because of their employment with or on behalf of the U.S. government. One requirement is “faithful and valuable service to the U.S. government.”
Applicants who have been terminated “for cause” by their employers—for reasons such as failing a counterintelligence screening or for alleged performance issues—are deemed to have not fulfilled the requirement. Security screenings routinely include polygraph tests, though they are considered too unreliable to be admissible in many courts. Interpreters and advocates say the smallest inconsistency could trigger a denial.
According to the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), human resources records also might incorrectly classify someone as terminated when the person actually resigned. Other interpreters have been found ineligible if they worked for a company accused of wrongdoing in government contracts.
According to IRAP, although the U.S. Department of State’s internal guidance states that disciplinary action doesn’t automatically disqualify an employee and that their record as a whole should be taken into consideration, the agency has “with rare exception” denied applicants who were terminated for cause.
SIVs typically require at least 15 years of employment, but because the Afghan program requires only one year, it’s harder to prove someone met the requirement if their record includes disciplinary actions. The issue comes down to whether the applicants had “derogatory information” associated with their case and whether they were terminated for cause. People who were terminated and later rehired could still meet the requirements for SIVs if they work at least another year.
A State Department spokesperson said that while being terminated for cause was previously grounds for a “fairly automatic” denial, that’s no longer the case. But IRAP and other advocates said they’ve noticed no changes.
Successful appeals are rare. Applicants must build a strong record of corroborating evidence and get additional recommendations from former supervisors, said Lara Finkbeiner, a pro bono supervising attorney at IRAP. Polygraph or broader counterintelligence screening failures are “next to impossible to overcome,” she said. In the meantime, interpreters who are still in Afghanistan are left playing a dangerous waiting game.
No One Left Behind, a service organization that assists Afghan and Iraqi interpreters, counted 339 killings of SIV applicants by the Taliban throughout the war until late 2021, though the nonprofit considers it an undercount.
“There is no future for these people in Afghanistan,” said Matt Zeller, senior advisor to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America who co-founded No One Left Behind. “Every day that they are not able to get to America is an additional day that the Taliban has to hunt them down.”
Read Full Article from Los Angeles Times (10/02/22)
Author: Castillo, Andrea
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