Mr. BLUMENAUER. In the aftermath of the 10th anniversary of the war in Iraq this spring, those of us who oppose the war, as those who thought it justified, are all sorting through what happened. More important, we are united in our support for our men and women in uniform who fought that heroic effort regardless of our feelings about the war's justification or history's verdict.
We have an obligation to all those who served to smooth their reentry and to minimize the price they paid for that war.
But there is another group who put themselves at risk for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am speaking of the Iraqi and Afghan nationals who worked with the American soldiers--thousands who were shoulder to shoulder with our troops, often in the most difficult of circumstances. They provided services as guides and interpreters that literally made the difference as to whether our soldiers lived or died.
I've talked to returning servicepeople who made clear how important it was that they had that help and how grateful they were to the Iraqis and Afghans who played those vital roles. I've worked with some of those soldiers to try and bring to America--to safety--some of those people who worked with them.
There is another group who knows about their contributions--the hostile elements still on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are people with long memories, who have vowed to take retribution for what they felt was an act of betrayal. Countless foreign nationals who worked with us have paid the price. They, along with members of their families, have been attacked, kidnapped, and killed.
We have an obligation to get them out of harm's way.
That is why I worked with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and on both sides of the Capitol in 2007 to create a special immigration visa program to enable them to come safely to the United States. It's a program not just for Iraqis; but starting in 2008, it was extended to Afghans as well--anyone who faced an ongoing and serious threat as a result of their employment for and on behalf of the United States Government. These two programs have enabled us to save the lives of these brave Iraqis and Afghans who often were in the heaviest fighting and whose contributions were most critical.
But we're facing two serious problems:
One, the programs are set to expire--for Iraq, September 30; for Afghanistan, 1 year later. Even more critically, we need to make sure that the special immigration visas, the SIVs, that have already been authorized are utilized. The processing has been incredibly slow.
Recently, joined by 18 of my colleagues of both parties, including six of our colleagues who were veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, we urged the administration to work with us to extend and reform the visa program. Let's cut through the extensive paperwork, the numerous agencies and timelines involved with all the background checks, provide the transparency to applicants so they know where they're at, and address the adverse decisions by a chief of missions so people have a chance to correct the record.
Make no mistake--this is urgent.
Just yesterday, on the front page of The New York Times, there was the story about an Afghan interpreter named Sulaiman, who has been working with us in Afghanistan for over a decade in over 300 missions in highly dangerous Special Operations assignment. Over the course of the last few years, the Taliban has attempted to kill Sulaiman three times; but despite his exemplary service and the extreme threat to his life, that visa we created is not functioning for him. After 2 years, he remains in limbo, with no visa and the program set to expire. Only 22 percent of the Iraqi visas and 12 percent of the Afghan visas have been issued. These are ready to go.
Last fall, The Post reported that over 5,000 documentarily-complete Afghan applications remained in a backlog. No doubt, the past performance is abysmal, but we have an obligation to extend and reform the programs and to make sure we give the resources necessary to deal with the understandable paperwork involved.
This bipartisan issue offers Members of Congress and the administration the chance to work together to save lives and ensure the safety of our troops currently serving in harm's way and future missions abroad. Otherwise, no one in their right mind is ever going to cooperate with U.S. forces under these circumstances.