Thursday, January 18, 2007

Iraqi Refugees

[posted by Callimachus]

UPDATED: See bottom

Something worth noting transpired in recent Senate hearings on Iraq:

Iraq is emerging as one of the fastest-growing refugee crises in the world, with an estimated 1.7 million Iraqis displaced from their homes and up to 100,000 fleeing the country to Jordan, Syria and other nations amid intensifying sectarian violence, U.S. officials and experts testified yesterday.

Yet the United States has allowed only 466 Iraqis to immigrate under refugee status since 2003 -- including 202 out of 70,000 slots for refugees last year -- in part because of more stringent security screenings, officials said at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"The Bush administration has $20 million in its fiscal 2007 budget for Iraqi refugee assistance," it notes, and adds, somewhat disingenuously, "the United States is spending $8 billion a month on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."

According to the LA Times:

A new U.S. program offers special immigrant visas to Afghan and Iraqi translators working with the U.S. military, but only 50 are available each year.

The president also sets an annual quota for refugee admissions, including a set number for emergencies. For the 2006 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, President Bush allocated 70,000 refugee admissions, 5,500 of which were designated for the Middle East and 10,000 of which were for emergencies. About 50,000 refugees were allowed into America last year, only 202 of whom were from Iraq.

Now, I understand what I take to be the administration's logic in this: We still treat Iraq and Afghanistan as places we are working hard and sacrificing for the sake of bringing stability and prosperity. We're asking our military men and women to make sacrifices for the sake of that commitment. To at the same time treat these places like burning buildings that people need to be rescued from at all costs is to send a completely cross message.

And I expect the same people who have a blanket obsession with both immigration and Islam will wring their hands mightily at the idea of opening the national gates to thousands of Iraqi refugees. And there is a very real likelihood that some genuine terrorists will get in among them.

But I have to agree with Marc Cooper that this is, so far, shameful. Too often when the U.S. has gone abroad on some mission, it has succeeded in getting more of our friends killed than our enemies. It's too soon to give up on Iraq. But it's very possible that such a time will come. It's even more possible that Americans, collectively and in their government, will give up on it before that time has arrived.

In either case, I will take my stand with the refugees, and for a generous and serious commitment to those who have stood by us in the war. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee's chairman, is right about this: "We should not repeat the tragic and immoral mistake from the Vietnam era and leave friends without a refuge and subject to violent reprisals." Hopefully I can count on his party to follow through on that thought.

UPDATE: I wanted to reference this article from today's Wall Street Journal, but it is behind the damned subscription firewall. Someone at has helpfully sapped the wall, however. So you can see this:

Since the start of the war, 257 Iraqi interpreters have been killed, says Titan Corp. of San Diego, which just completed a five-year, $4.6 billion Pentagon contract to provide linguists to U.S. forces. Most of those killed were assassinated while on home leave, the company says.

Hobbling on crutches or rolling through their days in wheelchairs, the Terps see themselves as combat veterans of America's war, which should entitle them to medical care, pensions and safety. Most want to emigrate to the U.S.

After lobbying by the U.S. Marine Corps, Congress approved a special immigration program for translators in 2005. But just 50 slots a year were granted, which must be shared between Iraqi and Afghan applicants with at least a year's service with U.S. combat troops. More than 5,000 locals have served in Iraq as interpreters. Some lawmakers and U.S. officials have argued that if the U.S. made it too easy for skilled Iraqis to leave, fewer would remain to help build Iraq. And if special benefits are carved out for interpreters, thousands more Iraqis who have worked with Americans -- from drivers to nurses to soldiers -- would also demand similar help.

We have to do better. From what I've seen and read and heard, the 5,000 terps are just the tip of the iceberg of the people in Iraq who have helped us try to help them. If you're going to pull the plug on the whole operation, I'm going to advocate for a massive relocation of these folks. If Joe Biden has dreams of the helicopters on the embassy roofs, I am not going to let him leave these people behind, or haunt him like a demon if he does.

I feel like letting every U.S. soldier and Marine who has served in battle zones in Iraq pick one willing local to bring home with him when we leave, if he or she so chooses. Skip the paperwork.

In a nearby room is one of the oldest Terps, Rabeh Khafaji, a 52-year-old Shiite nicknamed "Marcos." He was close to troops he patrolled with and says he "adopted" his 23-year-old platoon leader, Lt. Emily Perez. Told recently that she died in the same explosion that took both his lower legs, the former merchant seaman clutched Ms. Perez's photo to his chest and sobbed, "My beautiful child."

But it's all about Bush, really, isn't it? He's the only person who is real, the only person who matters. Failure has consequences, fools. Wipe that smile off your face when you talk about "how screwed we are."

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