U.S. Should Restore Special Visas for Military Translators

Assistant Director of Communications

August 9, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. — “Help us, and we will keep you safe” is a promise the United States has at least put on hold for Afghans and Iraqis who risked their safety to translate for our military.

A special immigrant visa program is on hold because of disagreement in Congress, as the New York Times reports today. The program is meant to offer a way out for translators who, because of the support they provided to U.S. troops, live under an “ongoing serious threat.”

The Forum has encouraged members of Congress to renew the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program, which has long enjoyed bipartisan support.

Applicants to the program undergo a tough screening process that includes, among other required steps, a letter of recommendation from a general or flag officer in the U.S. armed forces unit the applicant supported, an in-person interview with an American consular officer and security checks conducted by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State.

The stalemate leaves 12,000 Afghan translators and interpreters’ immigration paperwork in limbo, and it has drawn strong criticism from military leaders as well as Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the Times reports.

Past annual renewals of the visa program demonstrate “a shared understanding that taking care of those who took care of us is not just an act of basic decency; it is also in our national interest,” Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker wrote in the Washington Post in May. “American credibility matters. Abandoning these allies would tarnish our reputation and endanger those we are today asking to serve alongside U.S. forces and diplomats.”

Veterans also have supported the program. “If we fail to take care of these people it’s as inexcusable and as awful as it would be to knowingly leave behind an American servicemember,” Matthew Zeller, founder of No One Left Behind, told Stars and Stripes in April. His organization focuses on resettling special-visa recipients in the U.S.

“We need to honor the commitment we made to these translators and interpreters,” said Jacinta Ma, policy and advocacy director at the National Immigration Forum. “With lives on the line, our military has depended on them.

“The delay and uncertainty hurt our credibility and put lives at risk. Congress must renew the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program.”