We have written several times about the logjam on visas for foreign interpreters who served our military during Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The logjam has been particularly egregious for Afghan interpreters.
Even Democrats are appalled. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said last year:
We have to keep our promise to individuals who risked their lives serving alongside our troops. Failing to act puts lives at further risk and hurts our credibility around the globe.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a veteran of the Afghan war, expressed “deep concern” that “the threat posed to interpreters by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan is being downplayed or disregarded,”
Now comes word that thousands of Afghan interpreters who worked with the U.S. and hope to relocate here are still in limbo because the government will soon run out of visas designated for the resettlement program. The State Department is asking Congress to allow the issuance of more visas during the remainder of this fiscal year and to extend a special visa program due to expire in September.
State Department official Heather Higginbottom stated that “we owe these people this opportunity to be out of harm’s way.” Indeed.
But as the Washington Post points out, “the State Department’s current predicament is to a large degree one of its own making.”
The visa program was beset for years by interagency debates, security concerns and bureaucratic processing delays. In the fall of 2012, for instance, the State Department had granted just 32 visas among more than 5,700 applicants for the immigration pathway, which Congress established in 2009.
Many applicants were blocked at the first step — the embassy in Kabul — where senior diplomats felt the departure of scores of educated Afghans would accelerate the country’s brain drain. Some officials also argued that the risk to interpreters was not so dire — even as they markedly tightened security for American personnel in Afghanistan.
Several cases that the embassy allowed to move forward were rejected by other government agencies as applicants who had gained the trust of the U.S. military were branded potential security threats.
Most of this disgraceful scenario took place on Hillary Clinton’s watch. John Kerry has actually worked, albeit without great success, to streamline the visa process.
Let’s hope that Congress bails the Obama administration out. But let’s not forget the dishonorable behavior of the administration that rise to the problem.
As I wrote last year after reports surfaced that the threat to Afghan interpreters was being downplayed:
President Obama is doing everything he can to confer U.S. citizenship on millions of people who willfully violated U.S. immigration law for years. If Obama has his way, these people will become lawful U.S. residents without making any showing of hardship; the fact that they broke the law will be sufficient to establish eligibility.
But when it comes to granting visas for those who risked their lives by providing critical assistance to our military, the obvious threat of death that inheres in having helped America in a soon-to-be-abandoned war against murderous fanatics isn’t good enough.