Iraqi citizens who worked as translators and guides during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and through the decade of conflict that followed will continue to receive special immigration preference as a part of an American program to reward them for their service, US Congressman Earl Blumenauer said Thursday.
Blumenauer was speaking about the “Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa Program” which was extended an additional nine months as a part of the budget adoption, the “National Defense Authorization Act,” which was passed by the Congress earlier today (Thursday Dec. 12, 2013). Blumenauer was a sponsor of the “Iraqi Special Immigration Visa Program” extension in the NDAA.
But Blumenauer explained he could not support the entire budget bill because of other programs, saying only that his amendment to the budget he voted against, was adopted with the passage of the budget.
The program was slated to end at the end of this year, closing the door to special fast-track processing for Iraqi immigrants who served alongside American military forces during the Iraq War. As many as 2,500 applicants apply each year.
“Today, in the National Defense Authorization Act, Congress extended the Iraqi Special Immigration Visa (SIV) program for 9 months and secured critical reforms for both the Iraq and Afghanistan SIV programs. In addition, the State Department can continue to process SIV applications for as long as it takes, until they hit the new cap of 2,500 SIVs. Some of the essential reforms include greater transparency, authorization for applicants to hire legal counsel to be present during their interview, appointment of senior embassy staff to oversee the reform process, and a requirement for all applications to be completed within 9 months, with an exception for national security concerns,” Blumenauer said.
“These Iraqi translators and guides risked their lives to assist American soldiers. In 2007, I worked to create the SIV program to, in some small way, pay back our dedicated allies and show them what kind of country the US is. At that time, we made a promise to take in those who had served us when the American presence was scaled down and they no longer had our protection. Now, at least for the next year, we can keep that promise.”
Blumenauer vowed to continue efforts to extend the Iraqi SIV program further, making sure that every translator and guide that put their life on the line for our troops has a chance to come to the country he or she helped protect.
“I will also fight until the SIV program for Afghan translators, who risked their lives just as bravely as their Iraqi counterparts, is extended as well so that they and their families are out of harm’s way,” he said.
Blumenauer also sponsored an amendment that requires all Department of Defense new construction and redevelopment to increase the quality of life for our service members and their families by requiring our military installations to be “more livable.”
“Our military families deserve the very best, and ensuring our bases are planned and built in a way that promotes close-knit communities, where you can walk instead of drive your car, and have shared and green spaces to make difficult times more bearable, is essential,” Blumenauer asserted.
Ironically, because of other spending proposals, Blumenauer said he was compelled to vote against the the NDAA.
“This legislation wastes too much money and is a missed opportunity for greatly needed reform. For example, the bill spends $7.9 billion maintaining a nuclear stockpile that is enough to destroy the world several times over,” Blumenauer rationalizes.
“Wouldn’t it be better to reduce that arsenal and fully fund SNAP and other programs that help poor and hungry American families? Congress needs to show leadership and prove that we have the ability to make difficult choices. We have to acknowledge that recklessly funding an antiquated military strategy undermines our security. Crumbling bridges and roads, failing schools, and a massive national debt all put us at greater risk than modest and reasonable cuts to defense spending, so I could not support the bill.”
A lifelong resident of Portland, Oregon, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (OR-3) has devoted his entire career to public service.
While still a student at Lewis and Clark College, he spearheaded the effort to lower the voting age both in Oregon and at the national level. He was elected to the Oregon Legislature in 1972, where he served three terms and Chaired the House Education and Revenue Committee in 1977-78. In 1978, he was elected to the Multnomah County Commission, where he served for eight years before being elected to the Portland City Council in 1986. There, his 10-year tenure as the Commissioner of Public Works demonstrated his leadership on the innovative accomplishments in transportation, planning, environmental programs and public participation that have helped Portland earn an international reputation as one of America’s most livable cities.
Blumenauer was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1996.
More than 12,000 Iraqis have received special expedited immigration application support from the US government under the program.