Saturday, December 4, 2010

Iraqi Translators - Still left out in the cold.

I'm getting frustrated with this Iraqi translator/refugee issue. Our servicemen and women lobbied for years to provide lifesaving asylum for the Iraqi interpreters that have been enabling their missions and saving their lives. We finally got a bill passed in 2007 to give US visas to 5,000 Iraqis and Afghans every year that have been working with and supporting our troops. One Iraqi translator-turned-refugee even returned to Iraq, enlisted in the US Army!

But nevertheless, the Special Immigrant Visa bill has not delivered significantly on its promises:
"I think the main story is the failure of the program generally," says Becca Heller, an attorney who leads the Iraq Refugee Assistance Project, a largely voluntary group that provides legal representation to refugees attempting to resettle in safe countries. "Most of the translators remain trapped in Iraq in danger," she says.
Since last year, those entering under the visa program have received some refugee assistance. But just 2,347 of the more than 10,000 eligible so far have been admitted. The State Department added requirements and contracted out the paperwork, which delayed arrivals and raised the bar on eligibility.
Between March 2003 and March 2008, 360 interpreters working for Americans were killed and more than 1,200 injured, according to an investigation by Pro Publica and the Los Angeles Times.
(Link to article from The Oregonian, Nov 2010)
(Another November 2010 article on the same topic in The Oregonian, featuring Amelia Templeton, Swarthmore '06!)
I'm entirely unimpressed with our performance here. The IRAP project, law-student interns and pro-bono lawyers, got the US Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, January Contreras, to issue a report on how they could improve their process. The response was a long list of belated excuses and vows to "do better." We are not showing much commitment to interpreters in the field - to an considerably extent worse than Wikileaks' July blunder of not redacting its July 2010 leaks before publication.

And our armed forces are certainly short on interpreters, according to Paul Funk.
More than one quarter of the translators working alongside American soldiers in Afghanistan failed language proficiency exams but were sent onto the battlefield anyway, according to a former employee of the company that holds contracts worth up to $1.4 billion to supply interpreters to the U.S. Army.
And our coalition partners like Australia may have been even worse, leaving some refugees detained in overcrowded camps for over 10 months!

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