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Bill would extend visa program for interpreters for 1 year

Sep. 25, 2013 - 07:03PM   |  
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Four powerful senators are sponsoring a measure that would extend the Iraqi and Afghan special immigrant visa programs by one year. The program for Iraqis is on the verge of expiring, and the program for Afghans expires in a year.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., with John McCain, R-Ariz.; Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C., this evening introduced a standalone piece of legislation to extend the programs.

“We made a promise to thousands of Iraqi civilians who risked their lives helping our country during a time of war and now we must honor our commitment,” said Shaheen, who introduced a similar measure in May. “Extending the special immigrant visa program by a year is the right thing to do.”

The programs, which are for Iraqis and Afghans who worked as interpreters or for businesses or reconstruction operations that helped U.S. forces, are set to expire for Iraqis Sept. 30 and a year later for Afghans.

The move comes as thousands of Afghans and Iraqis wait for their visas from the State Department, advocates say.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., said he supports the visa program, citing the much publicized case of Afghan interpreter Janis Shinwari. Army vet Matt Zeller, whose life was saved by Shinwari in Afghanistan, has publicly lobbied on Shinwari’s behalf.

“Allowing the SIV program to expire is not only a disservice to these men and women in Iraq or Afghanistan, but our troops, who often have to spend extraordinary amounts of time and money to help save — literally — the lives of those who saved theirs,” Blumenauer said in a statement released Wednesday night.

Katie Reisner, national policy director, of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, said politically-charged spending matters before Congress make this a difficult time to pass any legislation. The introduction of the measure, “speaks to the depth of support in both parties in both houses,” she said, adding there are still procedural hurdles to overcome.

She said she hoped public concern for the issue, focused by Shinwari’s case and Zeller’s efforts, would yield a positive result.

“The veterans’ and military’s concern over this issue is really what glues it together as a bipartisan, non-politicized issue,” she said.

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