One of the great scandals — maybe “disgraces” is a better word — of the Iraqi war effort is our treatment of the Iraqis who risked their lives to work for the U.S. military and government and American civilian contractors.
Many of them are in exile in neighboring countries, having been forced to abandon their homes and careers in Iraq and facing assassination if they return. Many want to settle in the United States, and they think that’s only fair because they lost everything in our service. And they’re right.
But a country that once prided itself on its can-do attitude and ability to get things done just cannot rouse itself to issue visas to our one-time allies. We have taken in Vietnamese, Cubans and Russians wholesale, but our post-9/11 mentality and overly cautious security bureaucracy have left us paralyzed, unable to help those who helped us.
From Oct. 1, 2006, to Oct. 15 of this year, we’ve admitted 1,636 Iraqis. A shamed Bush administration decided that we would allow in 12,000 Iraqi refugees in the fiscal year that started Oct. 1. For the month of October, we’ve admitted only 450.
A group of Americans, loyal to the Iraqis who helped them, founded an organization called the List Project to prescreen the Iraqis they worked with to help speed up the immigration process. There are nearly 800 Iraqis on the list; nine have been admitted.
We have the largest embassy in the world in Baghdad, but somehow it can’t accomplish one of the most basic functions of a diplomatic mission. Iraqis wanting to come to the United States must leave Iraq, often at great risk, to apply.
So they languish in Jordan and Syria in bureaucratic limbo. A Washington Post reporter writes that the dispirited exiles clutch photos of themselves with the U.S. soldiers they served, laminated letters of thanks and appreciation from American commanders and expired U.S. Embassy ID badges as proof of their service.
A telecommunications engineer who worked with MCI and the U.S. Embassy fled Iraq after he was told he would die if he continued working for the Americans. Still unable to get a visa, he told a Post reporter in frustration, “Am I a security risk? I’ve worked for the Americans for so long, and I never had a problem. Why should they be afraid of me? Why should I not be allowed to find a job and have a decent life?”
The fact that we have no answer for him reflects so very badly on this country.