Afghan and Iraqi interpreters facing reprisals for helping American forces hope President-Elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration will offer them asylum in the United States.
Biden will have to contend with a backlog of thousands of visa applications from interpreters who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a bureaucratic tangle that refugee advocates say the Trump administration ignored or made worse.
“We have a moral obligation to those who served shoulder to shoulder with our men and women on the ground and who put their security and the security of their family members at risk,” said retired General David Petraeus, who commanded U.S. forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
The backlog includes roughly 17,000 Afghan interpreters and others who helped U.S. forces or diplomats seeking special visas to resettle. Counting immediate family members who would also enter the U.S., those applications represent an estimated 70,000 Afghans. The number for Iraqis is estimated at about 100,000.
Over 1,000 Iraqi and Afghan applicants signed a petition to Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris in December. Many said they are facing harassment or death threats, which may worsen as Trump plans to withdraw additional U.S. forces from war zones where Americans have been deployed for nearly 20 years.
“Many of them risked everything to work with U.S. Armed Forces in our countries (Afghanistan and Iraq) because we believe in America and its values,” the current and former interpreters wrote in the letter. “Because of this, we have been threatened and targeted by the Taliban, the Islamic State, and other armed groups that consider them traitors.”
Advocates for the interpreters said delays that mounted over the past four years are due in part to new security and bureaucratic requirements, while denials for seemingly qualified applicants increased.
The State Department inspector general said it takes the government 852 days on average to process a successful Afghan special immigrant visa, not including how long it takes applicants to submit paperwork and complete other steps to move their cases down the bureaucratic line.
A State Department official said the administration has added resources dedicated to processing these visas “and taken steps to streamline the process at every application stage.” Some cases require additional time to thoroughly evaluate the applicant’s eligibility for a visa.
“We are committed to ensuring those who sacrificed their own safety to help U.S. national security interests have an opportunity to seek refuge in the United States,” said an anonymous State Department official.
The U.S. government doesn’t track casualties among applicants, but volunteer groups working to aid applicants estimate that at least 1,000 Afghan and Iraqi interpreters have been killed while awaiting visas.
Read Full Article from The Washington Post (DC) (12/30/20)
Author: Gearan, Anne
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