February 14, 2007
Lost in Translation: U.S. Policy Toward Iraqi Translators and Interpreters
With an estimated 3.8 million Iraqis currently living as refugees, it’s not surprising that the U.S. might want to help by taking in a few hapless souls until Iraq stabilizes. So I wasn’t at all shocked to see that Washington has offered to provide refugee visa slots for its customary drop in the bucket. That’s right - 7,000 lucky Iraqis, or 0.18% of those who have fled during the current conflict alone, will be granted the opportunity to start over in the U.S. in the form of asylum.
Even more heartening is the special treatment awarded to those Iraqis who have used their special (and vitally needed) language skills by serving as translators and interpreters to assist U.S. forces in accomplishing their mission. In its infinite wisdom, the U.S. Congress has created a special immigration category for these brave souls, who are risking their lives even more than the average Iraqi . After all, the U.S. needs all the linguistic help it can get in this war, until it can manage to produce sufficient numbers of U.S. citizens with the necessary language skills and area knowledge to do a horrendously difficult and dangerous job like that (or heck, even to fulfill its own military recruitment goals for regular grunt soldiers).
That’s right: if you are one of the first fifty translators per fiscal year to meet the service requirement and round up the necessary documentation, you and your family (luckily, dependents don’t count toward the annual quota) can pony up the $190 filing fee and mail your petition and supporting documentation to to Rome (if you’re still in Iraq) or Lincoln, Nebraska (if you’ve somehow made it to the U.S.). I’m sure it won’t be a problem for you to round up a letter of recommendation from a general or flag officer, right? Especially since those folks are the ones most likely to be out in the field, working directly at your side?
With a bit of luck, once you manage to wait out the current petition processing time, you can apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consular post abroad. If you’re afraid you will be murdered in the meantime, don’t worry – your fate is in the hands of the professionals at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services!
(Oh, and in case you are worried about your terrorism-fighting translator brethren in Afghanistan, never fear – they get to share those 50 green cards with you.)
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Sheeesh. It's just incredible. The worst was the defensive line from the relevant US underscretary of state or whatever, saying that the refugee problem hadn't really exploded till after the Samarra bombing, so it was only understandable that Congress hadn't got around to it till now - fiscal year and all that, don't you know?
Meanwhile, in a chillingly relevant story across town, the files of Anne Frank's family's application for asylum in the U.S have been dug up. The story mentions that the US didn't want to take in people from Germany for fear of...a fifth column: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/15/arts/15otto.html
Trouble is, even if you had an Anne Frank out of Iraq today (and she probably is blogging), you wouldn't be able to convince much of the American public that she deserved asylum. Much easier to wring hands and bemoan lost opportunities 50 years later, when the hard choices are safely behind you.
Posted by: SP at February 15, 2007 03:05 AM
One thing that I would like to point out:- it seems that only a segment of the Iraqi population is favoured to get the refugee visa.
Posted by: YUL at February 15, 2007 10:41 AM
We had a case in Sweden some time ago, guess we still have it. Right after the Iraq war, some reporter discovered the tear-dripping history of Ibrahim Ali Suza, the 67-year Kurdish nightwatchman in the Swedish embassy in Baghdad. Apparently he'd been left in the embassy all alone since it closed down when Kuwait was invade. After 2003 he'd decided to make it his life's task to guard the place, where he'd been working since the sixties, for a salary of about £25 a day. And he did, polishing the King's portrait every morning, putting up barbed wire on the perimeter, filling plastic buckets with water to extinguish firebombs, rigging seven (7) Kalashnikov rifles in strategic positions around the building, and running between them at night to fend off looters, during the post-invasion unrest...
The Swedish public instantly crowned him a national hero and eventually he was brought over to get a medal of some sort. He then hinted that he wouldn't mind, you know, perhaps getting a visa instead? But since "there are no shortcuts", he was shipped back. As far as I know, he's still there, still dreaming of the Swedish snow.
On the other hand, Sweden takes close to 50% of all Iraqi refugees (and more than the US total) that are headed for the old continent, so I guess they're doing something even if they've let down this particular guy. The problem lies with those mean-spirited southern, eastern, central and western Europeans. And the Danes and Finns.
Posted by: alle at February 15, 2007 11:42 AM
same bull in Denmark. A large group of officers asked the Danish government to take in the some 20 translators who'd been serving with the Danish contingent, since Denmark is pulling out in 2007. The editor-in-chief of one of the main right-wing newspapers in Denmark, Berlingske Tidende, wrote an editorial in which he argued:
1. We are not leaving Iraq until the job is done of establishing peace and democracy.
2. We are leaving.
3. It follows Iraq is at peace and has democracy, and for that reason the translators have no need of asylum.
At this point I'd normally write something witty.
Hmmm, good thing I didn't wait another day to finally post that item, which first came to my attention via Interpreter Releases (an immigration law publication). It looks like help may be on the way. Maybe they'll even bump up the translator allotment to something insane like 100 annually!
The weird part is that if these people, as the gentleman who testified before the Senate, can manage to sneak into the U.S., they are eligible to apply for asylum just like anyone else. Good thing we haven't managed to build that wall just yet.
Posted by: Eva Luna at February 15, 2007 02:08 PM
Sigh...for that matter, I hope it doesn't take as long for the U.S. to fix its mistakes in Iraq as it has to make pitiful attempts at fixing the messes it made in Southeast Asia. I fear we will still be making amends to the Hmong for decades to come, if in fact we can properly make amends to them at all.
Posted by: Eva Luna at February 15, 2007 03:17 PM
eva - How many Hmong are there, really? And aren't most of them already in the US? I agree that is a sad, sad story.
Posted by: alle at February 15, 2007 03:50 PM
alle - will poke around more later, but there are thousands and thousands of Hmong in the U.S., with a large concentration in the Minneapolis/St. Pal area. Many of them spent years in refugee camps elsewhere in S.E. Asia and didn't arrive in the U.S. for years after the Vietnam War ended. I used to see some really sad immigraiton cases for them - some people had a very hard time acculturating here. (More on that later.)
Posted by: Eva Luna at February 15, 2007 04:08 PM
Ah, here we go - some stats on Hmong refugees overall, and in the U.S. in particular. (I'd posted a link above, but it seems to have gotten eaten in posting somehow. But this one is much better, so nevermind.)
Here we are, decades after the Vietnam War ended, still deciding whether to take in refugees who have spent most of the interim living in relatively squalid camps in Southeast Asia? Many of whom became refugees, at least in part, as a consequence of supporting the U.S. in an unpopular war? I hope the U.S. has learned from its mistakes.
Sad reading. I remember a photo exhibition with pictures from Hmong camps inside Laos, hidden in the jungle, and they were really disturbing pictures ... I've tried to keep an eye on news in this question since.
Considering what a relatively small effort it would be, it just seems odd to me that US politicians aren't willing to do something about this ... I mean, if the humanitarian side isn't enough to convince people, there's the Vietnam era hero story, plus a big group already in the US that will probably provide some helpful thank-you-votes to whoever does it. And unlike the Iraq case, there are no (rational or irrational) security fears: the Hmong are probably the most pro-US people on earth, or at least they were. And Laotian government infiltration I don't think is on the top of the USA's national security concerns.
Posted by: alle at February 15, 2007 10:58 PM
i was worked like translator with us army more than 3 years and now i flet outside iraq ..becase my life in dangerouse in iraq as result of my job and we wanted by terrorist sunni groups and secterian shiaa militia ....but we us government ignore our tragedy why we helped us army
Posted by: sam at February 25, 2007 12:30 PM