NPR Story
12:15 pm
Thu October 3, 2013

Extension Of Iraqi Visa Program Overcomes Washington Partisanship

In the midst of federal government paralysis, the Washington Post hailed a "rare moment of bipartisan cooperation" when the House of Representatives on Wednesday night approved a bill to extend the Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa Program. The Senate approved a similar bill on Monday.

The special visa program was established to help Iraqi interpreters and their families who faced threats to their lives because of their work for the U.S. government. The five-year-old program expired at the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, and was at risk of disappearing all together.

The bill passed the House with unanimous consent on Wednesday night. The Senate bill was championed by Senators John McCain and Jeanne Shaheen.

Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, is quoted in the Post commending Wednesday night's passage in the House:

Years ago we made a promise to Iraqi civilians and tonight, the House helped us honor our commitment to those who risked their lives for our country. We have a moral obligation to stand with Iraqis who stood with us during a time of war and with this bill headed to the President tomorrow we are demonstrating that we will not abandon our Iraqi partners.

Since the program began in 2007, the special visa has allowed more than 12,000 former Iraqi contractors and interpreters along with family members to move to the U.S., according to the Associated Press. There are an estimated 2,000 applications still caught up in the backlog.

Fronteras Desk has reported in the past on how the bureaucratic obstacles to obtaining these visas and the long wait can endanger families waiting in Iraq. Of course, once they arrive in this country, resettlement can be difficult.

Many Iraqi refugees end up in San Diego, where economic difficulties combine with cultural isolation to make this escape to the U.S. less than perfect.

Bob Montgomery is the executive director of the International Rescue Committee in San Diego.

I think when refugees first arrive there's a sense of euphoria. They're safe, their families are safe. After the initial euphoria fades away, there's a period of time where, I don't want to say it's depression, it's not clinical depression, but clearly it's people being confronted with the realities of how difficult life here in the United States can be.

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