The issue: We owe it to Iraqis and now Afghanis to stand by our word
In Afghanistan, the Taliban have promised to kill Afghanis who worked for the Americans and their families. In Iraq, similar threats were made by radical Islamic insurgents. They were not idle threats. The terrorists proved quite diligent in carrying out those threats.
Thus, the U.S. forces made a bargain, both explicit and implicit: Work for us and we will see that you and your families get visas for safe haven in America.
IN NEITHER COUNTRY have we come even close to holding up our end of the bargain, thanks to red tape and a U.S. bureaucracy that works only fitfully. Visas in Iraq were handed out only grudgingly and sparingly.
Now the same thing is happening in Afghanistan. Apparently, we learned nothing in Iraq.
In 2009, Congress passed a law to reward Afghanis who worked for U.S. forces. According to The Washington Post, “As of last fall, though, only 32 of more than 5,700 Afghan applicants had received visas through the special program.” That’s a pathetic performance.
In a fine display of hair-splitting, the State Department ruled that U.S. military interpreters were ineligible for visas because they had been hired by the NATO-led — meaning U.S.-led — International Security Assistance Force instead of directly by the U.S. government. To Taliban hit squads, this is a distinction without a difference.
The State Department probably thinks its paperwork is simple and straightforward, but to see what a desperate Iraqi interpreter, whose U.S. unit is packing to go back to the States, has to go through, try looking at http://travel.state.gov/visa/immigrants/info/info_3738.html. Imagine doing this while the irregular electricity flickers and the Taliban are said to be nosing around your neighborhood.
CONGRESS IS contemplating legislation that presumably would make it easier for the interpreters and their families to get visas. The best proposal is by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., that would extend the program to 2015 and expand the number of visas granted annually to 5,000. Additionally, it would include interpreters hired by the ISAF, news organizations and nongovernmental aid organizations.
There’s also a strong element of self-interest here. We’re going to be in the Mideast and North Africa for a long time, perhaps in combat situations, and we are going to need people like these.
It would help a lot in recruiting if we could prove that we are people of our word.