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Public Statements

Special Immigrant Status for Certain Aliens Serving as Translators or Interpreters with Federal Agencies

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC


SPECIAL IMMIGRANT STATUS FOR CERTAIN ALIENS SERVING AS TRANSLATORS OR INTERPRETERS WITH FEDERAL AGENCIES -- (House of Representatives - May 22, 2007)

Mr. BERMAN. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the Senate bill (S. 1104) to increase the number of Iraqi and Afghani translators and interpreters who may be admitted to the United States as special immigrants, as amended.

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Mr. BERMAN. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members have 5 legislative days to revise and extend their remarks and include extraneous material on the bill under consideration.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from California?

There was no objection.

Mr. BERMAN. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Translators and interpreters have been crucial to our efforts in Iraq, serving as a critical link between our troops and the Iraqi population. Because of their work for U.S. forces, many of these people have risked their lives and the lives of their families to assist our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now they are under serious threat. These translators and interpreters who
serve bravely alongside our troops need our immediate assistance. Singled out as collaborators, many are now targets by death squads, militias and al Qaeda.

In Mosul, insurgents recorded and circulated the brutal execution of two interpreters, a stark warning to others who have assisted U.S. forces in the country. U.S. soldiers and embassy employees who have attempted to help their interpreters flee from violence have had to stand by hopelessly as their Iraqi colleagues went into hiding. Often leaving their families behind simply in order to survive.

Congressman JEFF FORTENBERRY came to me with the idea, and I agreed, and we introduced broad, far-reaching legislation on this issue. We are taking up the bill before us today because the Senate already passed this by unanimous consent, and the urgency of the situation requires us to act now.

This legislation will help quickly address this crisis by authorizing up to 500 special visas for Iraqis and Afghanis who put their lives at risk by working with the U.S. military and the U.S. embassy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We all realize this is not a partisan issue, and I am pleased to have worked with the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee on helping to get this bill before us today. The original special visa legislation included in the 2006 Defense Authorization Act has proved wholly inadequate, authorizing only 50 visas a year, creating a backlog estimated to take 9 years to clear at the current rate.

As of last week, nearly 500 Iraqis and Afghanis have gone through the requisite background checks and have been approved for the visa. Because of the backlog, they are stuck in limbo waiting for a visa that may never come. These people need us to act. The Senate passed this legislation over a month ago, and the administration is supportive of taking this action.

Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs recently said, ``We are committed to honoring our moral debt to those Iraqis who have provided assistance to the U.S. military and embassy.'' Clearly, we owe these people a debt of gratitude. They have risked everything to help us out in Iraq and Afghanistan and the least we can do is help deliver them out of harm's way.

But I tell my colleagues, the magnitude of the broader refugee crisis in Iraq far exceeds anything this bill attempts to resolve. We need to address the wider refugee issue, which has forced over 4 million Iraqis from their homes.

The gentleman from Oregon (Mr. Blumenauer) has legislation on this subject, and I think will be speaking to that broader issue. No one should take our efforts to do this now as a notion that that satisfies our obligation on something that we played a part in, creating the situation that led to this.

Let me just add, I see this as an emergency effort. It can't be the last word on this matter. We must do something to deal with the larger refugee issue in Iraq, as I said, and it's very possible that the visas we are discussing in this bill will prove inadequate for this need. Still, I think we need to act now so that the visas are available.

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Mr. BERMAN. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

My friend from Iowa makes interesting arguments, but to some extent undermines those arguments. He says rule of law is important, and, therefore, the committee should have accepted an amendment in the committee to make illegal what folks in our embassies and in our missions did, thereby undermining the argument that in any way there was any law violated.

There was no law against expending funds to process these visas. There were no promises made to Iraqi interpreters and translators they would be guaranteed a visa. But when our folks in the field see a situation developing where the people who have allowed them to do their job, at great risk for their life and limb, are in desperate need for them and their families to essentially be appreciated and rewarded for that life-threatening effort, and they tell their folks that they work for in the Defense Department and in the State Department and the folks in Congress who are dealing with these issues that we need to do something about them, and we respond, that doesn't constitute a promise that no one had authority to make, a violation of the rule or law.

And, by definition, I understand, and we have had many discussions on our immigration issues; in fact, the gentleman and I are both here now rather than at a hearing on the immigration issue. I understand the gentleman has a definition of amnesty which is wider than mine, but I never realized how much wider it was, that a bill that adds to the number of visas that can be given, after background checks and going through the regular process to ensure the security interests that we have before we issue a visa, that a bill that would increase the number of visas for these people who have put themselves in harm's way on behalf of the United States is an amnesty law. This takes that very expansive definition the gentleman has and I think expands it even further.

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Mr. BERMAN. Reclaiming my time. I certainly don't know that that is true, and I would be stunned if it were. I would be stunned if our dedicated employees in a very difficult foreign mission or in the military were out promising things they couldn't deliver. I don't think our folks operate like that. I think they were processing applications in case and in the event that we increased the number of visas because the demand was so urgent. The gentleman from Oregon talked about 4 million refugees. We are talking about an infinitesimal subset that worked for us in our campaign efforts in Iraq.

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Mr. BERMAN. Let me reclaim my time just to respond to that. We have a law that gives 50 visas a year, but the next year it gives 50 more and then 50 more. Is the gentleman suggesting that we should not process any more than the first 50?

There are people who would be allowed the next year and the year after. Why wouldn't you give these visas to the people who were first in line? I know the gentleman loves the sanctity of the line. Give these to the people who are first in line. Why wouldn't we process applications of people who weren't going to get visas that year but the next year? Why 5 years later would you take somebody who hasn't been waiting in line for 5 years and approve their visas?

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Mr. BERMAN. Reclaiming my time. And at this point I think maybe we should end the debate. But no part of Mr. Fortenberry's or my motivations for introducing the bill, and I wouldn't speculate on the Senate's motivations, but no part of our motivation was to take the administration out of an embarrassing place where they have been making promises that couldn't be kept.

We thought that justice, fairness, American tradition, and the risks that these people have taken to help our Armed Forces and our diplomats in one of the most difficult, hazardous situations in the world gave them a claim that we should respond to, not a promise made by somebody that we are forced to keep. We wanted them to have these visas. We weren't responding to pressure to take the administration and their people in Baghdad out of an embarrassing situation.

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