Capitol Hill film screening to highlight 18,000 Iraqi allies in danger

This report by Rebecca Lee Sanchez first appeared on Global Post on November 20th, 2013 as part of the GroundTruth blog.

Congressman Alcee L. Hastings aims to remind the US that more than two-thirds of Iraqis who aided in US military operations related to the Iraq War have not been resettled as promised.

WASHINGTON — A 2008 program to provide 25,000 Special Immigrant Visas to Iraqis who “played critical roles in assisting American forces” since the 2003 invasion of Iraq is nearing its expiration, set for the end of December. Of 25,000 visas alotted, only 7,000 have been awarded.

Those Iraqi citizens, and their loved ones, who have been left behind live in danger of kidnapping, torture and murder by extremist groups that call them “traitors.” As of August 2008, according to the Congressional Budget Office, approximately 70,000 Iraqis had worked as translators, engineers, civil society experts and advisors for the US armed forces.

In an effort to show the importance of issuing the remaining 18,000 visas to Iraqis and preventing a similar problem as American forces withdraw from Afghanistan, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.), will be screening documentery filmmaker Beth Murphy’s film The List. The film follows Kirk Johnson, who founded The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies to help US-affiliated Iraqis in need of special visas navigate challenges with the US refugee resettlement program.

“This is an important time to remember the failures in Iraq as we are now seeing the problem repeat itself in Afghanistan,” Murphy said. “This screening is an opportunity to have conversations with lawmakers and advocates who can work together to do what’s right for those who risked their lives to help the United States.”

Johnson, a former USAID worker, began documenting the names of Iraqis in need of Special Immigrant Visas in 2007.

When in 2008 Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, Johnson “helped ensure the inclusion of provisions to create 25,000 additional SIVs specifically for US-affiliated Iraqis through 2013.”

“Congressman Hastings has been working with Kirk to bring attention to this issue since 2008,” the congressman’s press secretary said in an email, adding that the congressman has “remained focused on the implementation of the Special Immigrant Visa program and addressing the current backlog.”

Almost two years since the completion of the US military withdrawal, however, less than a quarter of those visas have been awarded, and the remaining Iraqis are “constantly in danger of kidnapping, torture, and even murder by extremist groups that remain in the region.”

Despite legislation passed in October, which extended the Special Immigrant Visas Program for three months, Beth Murphy said, “the sad reality is that this program—one that was designed specifically to help them—has been a failure.”

“Many of our Iraqi allies have waited more than three years to receive their SIVs,” Congressman Hastings said in a statement on October 4. “This three month extension gives the State Department the time it needs to finish processing the thousands of pending applications to the SIV program many of which have been pending for more than two years. This backlog must be addressed quickly, and our endangered allies in Iraq given the chance to seek safety in the United States.”

The screening will take place at 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 20, in Washington DC’s Capitol Hill Gold Room (2168 Rayburn), and will be followed by a discussion with Beth Murphy and Kirk Johnson.

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