Upholding Our Promise To Iraqi Refugees

By Ali Frick

In an interview with the Washington Post published Thursday, Vice President Biden insisted that the American withdrawal of troops from Iraq will take place on schedule, reducing troops to 50,000 this summer. This is promising news. But as we leave, we can’t forget about the vulnerable populations we have left behind, and we must uphold the promise of Ted Kennedy’s Iraqi refugee law. A group I work with at school, the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, has laid out a few essential changes we need to make in our policies to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable Iraqi populations:

Use Existing Tools To Protect Iraqi Refugees: Kennedy’s 2008 Iraqi Refugee Bill authorized the Secretary of State to designate vulnerable populations of Iraqi refugees as part of the Priority-2 category, providing them expedited resettlement to the United States. So far, however, the State Department has not included any Iraqis in this category. The Department should act on this, and create transparent procedures for naming groups as P-2 status.

Move Immediately To Resettle Gay Iraqis: More than 100 gay Iraqis have been kidnapped, tortured, and executed by gangs and militias in Iraq this past year; the entire gay population has been systematically targeted. Secretary of State Clinton can designate LGBT Iraqis as part of the Kennedy bill’s P-2 category, which provides for expedited resettlement to the United States as refugees.

Uphold Our Promise To Iraqis Who Helped Us: US law allocates 5,000 “Special Immigrant Visas” (SIVs) annually to Iraqis who worked with the United States, but less than 17 1,000 are being granted. Discretionary relief often means applicants are inexplicably rejected without a way to appeal. State and DHS needs to streamline this process, institute auotomatic reviews for applicants, and produce its own reviews for Congress and the public.

For years, we ignored the refugee crisis in Iraq. We face different challenges in Afghanistan, where there are fewer liberal-ish neighboring states to which refugees can flee (most Iraqi refugees flee to Jordan and live there while awaiting resettlement). We have spent years trying to catch up to the problem in Iraq; as we leave Iraq — and hopefully Afghanistan — we can’t forget our responsibility to those we are leaving behind.