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Break the logjam on visas for foreign interpreters who served our military during war

During an appearance before the Washington chapter of the Federalist Society earlier this year, someone asked Rep. Tom Cotton about immigration reform. As part of his answer, Tom noted that the Afghan who served as his interpreter while he participated in the Afghanistan war was still waiting for a U.S. visa. Why grant status to millions of illegal aliens while a man who risked his life supporting America’s war effort cools his heels?

Tom’s interpreter is not alone. According to Dakota Meyer and Bing West, writing in the Washington Post, Congress has authorized 1,500 visas per year for Afghans who have assisted us, but the State Department annually approves only about 200. In the past five years, State has issued only 12 percent of the available visas. The picture is similar with respect to Iraq.

To be sure, some caution is called for in granting visas to Afghans and Iraqis. But to qualify for a visa, Afghan interpreters must provide recommendations from U.S. officers and be interviewed and approved by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. The recommending officers will have served alongside the applicant and thus witnessed his loyalty and dedication.

The hitch comes when the application is reviewed by security committees in Washington. As Meyer and West explain, these panels have no incentive to say ‘yes’ and a huge incentive to say ‘no’ in order to avoid blame for any future incident.

Ironically, the State Department issued visas to more than 20,000 Saudis last year without repetitive reviews by security committees. Few if any of these applicants had proven their loyalty to this country under fire, as Afghan and Iraqi interpreters have.

Meyer and West point to the example of an Afghan interpreter who, although bloody from wounds incurred during an ambush, returned to the fight, killed several Taliban fighters, and carried out the bodies of the fallen Americans. This interpreter served with U.S. units for five years and received 15 certificates and letters of commendation attesting to his work record.

Yet, the State Department issued almost 2 million visas to immigrants while this interpreter waited for approval of his application. Only after Fox News reported the situation and Gen. Joseph Dunford, senior commander in Afghanistan, intervened did the visa come through.

Now, Secretary of State Kerry should intervene. As Meyer and West conclude:

John Kerry threw away Vietnam decorations to display his disgust with that war. Of all U.S. officials, Kerry should be the most resolved not to see Afghanistan veterans throw away their medals in disgust because their comrades — the interpreters — were left behind. Forceful management by the State Department can fix this problem. If that is institutionally too difficult, then give the responsibility to Gen. Dunford. Thousands of combat veterans are watching.

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