We’ve brought you this story of the interpreters in limbo before, but the administration never seems to be adequately addressing this.
We gave the interpreters a promise of a visa for their help at great peril to themselves and their families, and we are failing to fulfill that obligation that we owe them as a nation. They fought with us and saved the lives of countless American soldiers. These are ‘real refugees’ to whom we owe a very specific duty, on our honor as a country.
Last week, President Obama decided to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees to the United States. But there’s another group of foreigners who deserve our help much more – the 50,000 men and women who served as interpreters for American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During my two deployments, I worked with countless interpreters. They were essential to my work and served at great personal risk. Interpreters are routinely killed by insurgents because they’re aiding the United States. One man I worked with was targeted by attackers who knew what car he drove and where he lived. While on the job, my interpreter’s brother took his car to town. Insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the vehicle, killing his brother and wounding his father.
Because of such dangers, many interpreters seek asylum in the United States. But while American government officials say they’re doing everything they can to bring the interpreters to safety, the State Department is chronically behind in processing their Special Immigrant Visa applications. (The SIV process is based on the process for refugee asylum but tailored specifically for individuals experiencing danger and threats tied to their service for the United States.) Just three visas were issued to Afghan translators in 2011; only 63 were given in 2012. Though Secretary of State John F. Kerry overhauled the system (the State Department processed 3,441 visas in 2014), officials estimate that there are thousands of men and women stranded at various points in the process.
Many of the interpreters and their families have been killed.
The man on the left is Sakhidad Afghan, an Afghan interpreter. He waited four years on the list for a visa before he was tortured and murdered by the Taliban because we failed to save him, as we promised.
Our soldiers placed their lives in the hands of these guys. They fulfilled their duty. Let us fulfill ours.