Media Contact: Shelly Han
WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) released the following statement on final passage of legislation to extend the Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program:
“I am pleased that members of the United States Congress have come together to save our Iraqi allies by enacting an extension of the Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program which expired at midnight on Monday. The bill extends the program through the end of December 2013 in order to allow the continued processing of the thousands of pending SIV applications, most of which have been in the pipeline for more than two years. This backlog must be resolved. The legislation also provides for an additional 2,000 visas.
“While I am grateful for this extension, I am extremely concerned about our government’s ability to finish processing the pending applications in three months. Since 2003, thousands of brave Iraqis have risked their lives to serve as interpreters for our soldiers, aides to our diplomats and in support of U.S.-led efforts to rebuild their country. Since its inception in 2008, the program has only resulted in approval of approximately 6,000 of its 25,000 allocated visas, and our Iraqi allies have waited an average of two to three years to receive their SIVs – many of them in hiding or on the run. Others have made the ultimate sacrifice for their service.
“I urge the State Department and its partner agencies to take advantage of this extension and redouble their efforts to ensure that all of our Iraqi allies receive safe passage to the United States as they have been promised.”
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, is an independent agency of the Federal Government charged with monitoring compliance with the Helsinki Accords and advancing comprehensive security through promotion of human rights, democracy, and economic, environmental and military cooperation in 57 countries. The Commission consists of nine members from the U.S. Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.