Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 11, 2016

New Lawsuit, Legislation to Aid Iraqis, Afghans Who Helped U.S. in Wars

Shaheen arrives for the Senate Democrats' policy lunch on Tuesday, Feb. 25. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Shaheen arrives for the Senate Democrats’ policy lunch on Tuesday, Feb. 25. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

There were two developments Monday meant to ensure visas for Afghans and Iraqis who helped the United States in wars in those countries: 1., the announcement of a lawsuit filed by an Iraqi who served as a translator but has been waiting more than two years on his visa; and 2. the introduction of a bipartisan bill to boost the number of Special Immigration Visas (SIVs) available to Afghan civilians who served in a similar role.

The Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project hailed the lawsuit as the first “the first-ever suit to hold the U.S. Government accountable for a backlog of applications from Iraqis seeking” SIVs. The Iraqi at the center of the lawsuit is going by the name “Ali” for security reasons, and the New Yorker told his story in a piece that went online Monday. With the jihadist group calling itself the Islamic State rampaging through Iraq, Ali is one of many Iraqis who helped the United States who are feeling, suddenly, even less safe.

The lawsuit alleges that the Departments of State and Homeland Security are out of compliance with congressional mandates on the speed with which SIVs must be processed. Ali is one of tens of thousands the Project estimates helped the United States.

“For Ali and others like him, this is a life or death situation where every minute counts,” said Becca Heller, director of the Project, in a news release. “Congress recognized this when they passed a law requiring these visas to be processed within nine months. But Ali has been waiting over two years, and it’s time to bring in a judge and end this nightmare.”

In the Senate, meanwhile, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., teamed with John McCain, R-Ariz., to announce legislation that would address a shortfall of SIVs for Afghan civilians. It would authorize another 1,000 in response to a shortfall identified by Secretary of State John Kerry.

“The brave civilians who risked their lives and that of their families to help our country during a time of war deserve to have their commitment honored and find safe haven,” Shaheen said in a news release announcing the bill. “We must make good on American promises to our Afghan allies who are now living in fear of retribution because they believed in our mission enough to risk their lives for it. They cannot wait; it is essential Congress pass this bipartisan bill so we can come one step closer to keeping that promise for all who served.”

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