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Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin, Chairman
Hon. Alcee L. Hastings, Co-Chairman
For Immediate Release
www.csce.gov
August 12, 2010

CARDIN, HASTINGS LEAD GROUP CALLING FOR PENTAGON, STATE PLAN TO PROTECT IRAQI ALLIES


WASHINGTON--The United States needs to develop a plan to assist the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have worked, or continue to work, for the U.S. in Iraq, 22 U.S. Senators and Representatives said today in letters to both Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates.

The letters authored by U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), and Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) follow a recent hearing titled “No Way Home, No Way to Escape: The Plight of Iraqi Refugees and Our Iraqi Allies” that highlighted the dire situation of Iraqis employed by the United States. These men and women are considered “traitors” or “collaborators” and are marked for assassination by Al Qaeda in Iraq and other terrorist groups.

“Time is of the essence in developing a plan to address this looming crisis as the August 31, 2010 withdrawal date rapidly approaches,” the letters say. “The United States has a moral obligation to stand by those Iraqis who have risked their lives – and the lives of their families – to stand by us in Iraq for the past seven years, and doing so is also in our strategic self-interest.” (Full text of both letters below. To view a pdf of the letter to Secretary Clinton click here. For the letter to Secretary Gates, click here.)

Since resettlement to the United States is the safest option for many of our Iraqi allies, the signatories of the letters called for changes to the Special Immigrant Visa program to accelerate the application process and fulfill more of the current availability of 15,000 visas, only 2,145 of which have been used to date. This follows the legislative work of Co- Chairman Hastings, whose successful amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 calls on the Departments of Defense and State, in consultation with other federal agencies, to develop a plan to expedite resettlement of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis at risk as the United States withdraws from Iraq.

“Providing support for our Iraqi allies will advance U.S. national security interests around the world, particularly in Afghanistan, by sending a message that foreign nationals who support our work abroad can expect some measure of protection,” the letters state.

The letters are signed by: 

U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Commission Chairman*
U.S. Representative Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Commission Co-Chairman*
U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Senate Assistant Majority Leader
U.S. Senator Richard G. Lugar (R-IN)
U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)
U.S. Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA)
U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)*
U.S. Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY)
U.S. Representative Ike Skelton (D-MO)
U.S. Representative Howard L. Berman (D-CA)
U.S. Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA)
U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)
U.S. Representative William D. Delahunt (D-MA)
U.S. Representative James P. McGovern (D-MA)
U.S. Representative Shelley Berkley (D-NV)
U.S. Representative Janice D. Schakowsky (D-IL)
U.S. Representative Darrell E. Issa (R-CA)*
U.S. Representative G.K. Butterfield (D- NC)*
U.S. Representative Russ Carnahan (D-MO)
U.S. Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI)
U.S. Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA)
U.S. Delegate Eni Faleomavaega (D-AS)

* denotes member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission

Text of letters follows:

August 12, 2010

The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Madam Secretary:

We write to bring to your attention the plight of our Iraqi allies, those Iraqis who have worked alongside our troops and diplomats as interpreters and in other capacities since 2003, and who are now threatened for their service. We urge you to work with the Department of Defense and other federal agencies to develop contingency plans to protect these allies as our forces redeploy.
 
          Since 2003, tens of thousands of Iraqis have worked, or continue to work for, the Department of Defense, the Department of State, U.S. government contractors and other U.S. government funded entities in Iraq.   Al Qaeda in Iraq and other terrorist groups affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq have labeled these Iraqis traitors, collaborators and worse.  Many have already paid the ultimate price for their service, and many more may be at risk after U.S. troops depart Iraq. 
            
           Resettlement to the United States could be the only safe option for thousands of our Iraqi employees.  We commend the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security for expanding and accelerating the admission process for Iraqi refugees during the past three years. However, we are advised that the application process for Iraqi refugees currently takes a year or more on average, and that fewer than 5000 of those resettled to date were employed by the United States in Iraq.  This process will not work quickly enough when U.S.-affiliated Iraqis need it the most urgently.

          A second path to resettlement, Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), has also underperformed the current need.  As you know, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 expanded the availability of SIVs to enable our Iraqi employees to resettle to the United States.  Out of a current availability of 15,000 SIVs, only 2,145 have been issued to principal applicants to date. We believe that the underuse of the SIV program is due in large part to a consular interpretation that improperly restricts the scope of that legislation by extending eligibility only to Iraqis who had worked for the United States as direct hires, contractors, or subcontractors.  This has denied eligibility to a class of Iraqis whom the Act sought to protect—Iraqis who have worked for NGOs or private implementing partners funded by the United States Government through grants and cooperative agreements.  Many of these individuals provided critical support to U.S. efforts and personnel in Iraq and face threats that are just as grave as the threats faced by direct hires and contractors. It is extremely unlikely that Iraqi extremists will consider the difference in funding mechanisms between grants to NGOs or contracts to companies when choosing which Iraqis to kill.  We urge you to amend this interpretation as quickly as is practical.

          Finally, we should consider an airlift, for later processing, out of Iraq for those Iraqis who worked for or on behalf of the United States, who wish to leave Iraq, and who cannot be processed before all U.S. troops depart.  The British did exactly this as they departed Basra and militant thugs openly hunted Iraqis who had worked for the British, airlifting their surviving Iraqi employees directly to a Royal Air Force base in England.  Each of America’s principal coalition partners – Britain, Denmark, and Poland – has honored its moral obligation to endangered Iraqi employees through airlifts to military bases.

           There is precedent for a similar undertaking by the United States in Iraq.  In the 1996 Operation Pacific Haven, the United States airlifted more than 6,000 Iraqis to Guam in a matter of weeks, where they were safely processed for resettlement to the United States.   While circumstances are somewhat different, our country also used Guam as a processing center for tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees in 1975.
 
           Madam Secretary, time is of the essence in developing a plan to address this looming crisis as the August 31, 2010 withdrawal date rapidly approaches.  The United States has a moral obligation to stand by those Iraqis who have risked their lives -- and the lives of their families – to stand by us in Iraq for the past seven years, and doing so is also in our strategic self-interest. Providing support for our Iraqi allies will advance U.S. national security interests around the world, particularly in Afghanistan, by sending a message that foreign nationals who support our work abroad can expect some measure of protection.  

SIGNED (listed above)

 

August 12, 2010

The Honorable Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000

Dear Mr. Secretary:

            We write to bring to your attention the plight of our Iraqi allies, those Iraqis who have worked alongside our troops and diplomats as interpreters and in other capacities since 2003, and who are now threatened for their service. We urge you to work with the Department of State and other federal agencies to develop contingency plans to protect these allies as our forces redeploy.

          Since 2003, tens of thousands of Iraqis have worked, or continue to work for, the Department of Defense, the Department of State, U.S. government contractors and other U.S. government funded entities in Iraq.   Al Qaeda in Iraq and other terrorist groups affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq have labeled these Iraqis traitors, collaborators and worse.  Many have already paid the ultimate price for their service, and many more may be at risk after U.S. troops depart Iraq.  

           Resettlement to the United States could be the only safe option for thousands of our Iraqi employees.  We commend the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security for expanding and accelerating the admission process for Iraqi refugees during the past three years. However, we are advised that the application process for Iraqi refugees currently takes a year or more on average, and that fewer than 5,000 of those resettled to date were employed by the United States in Iraq.  This process will not work quickly enough when U.S.-affiliated Iraqis need it the most urgently. 

            A second path to resettlement, Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), has also underperformed the current need.  As you know, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 expanded the availability of Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) to enable U.S.-affiliated Iraqis to resettle to the United States, providing 5,000 visas per fiscal year for principal applicants with a carryover of unused availability to succeeding years.  However, out of a current availability of 15,000 SIVs, only 2,145 have been issued to principal applicants to date. 

            Finally, we should consider an airlift, for later processing, out of Iraq for those Iraqis who worked for or on behalf of the United States, who wish to leave Iraq, and who cannot be processed before all U.S. troops depart.  The British did exactly this as they departed Basra and militant thugs openly hunted Iraqis who had worked for the British, airlifting their surviving Iraqi employees directly to a Royal Air Force base in England.  Each of America’s principal coalition partners – Britain, Denmark, and Poland – has honored its moral obligation to endangered Iraqi employees through airlifts to military bases.

            There is precedent for a similar undertaking by the United States in Iraq.  In the 1996 Operation Pacific Haven, the United States airlifted more than 6,000 Iraqis to Guam in a matter of weeks, where they were safely processed for resettlement to the United States.  While the circumstances are somewhat different, our country also used Guam as a processing center for tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees in 1975.

            Mr. Secretary, time is of the essence in developing a plan to address this looming crisis as the August 31, 2010 withdrawal date rapidly approaches.  The United States has a moral obligation to stand by those Iraqis who have risked their lives – and the lives of their families – to stand by us in Iraq for the past seven years, and doing so is also in our strategic self-interest.  Providing support for our Iraqi allies will advance U.S. national security interests around the world, particularly in Afghanistan, by sending a message that foreign nationals who support our work abroad can expect some measure of protection.

SIGNED (listed above)

Media Contact: Neil Simon
202.225.1901
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