During the Christmas holiday, President Barack Obama signed a bill into law that has the potential to help more than 2,000 Iraqis. It extends the special immigrant visa program for Iraqis.
The State Department began issuing these visas in 2008, but it recently expired in September. Advocates for the program include former service members who say it's necessary to keep their former Iraqi translators and interpreters safe.
Katherine Reisner, the National Policy Director for the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, said the new law allows the State Department to keep accepting applications until it issues 2,500 visas.
Reisner said that's a big improvement from the past. She said, "Folks have been stuck in the processing pipeline through no fault of their own, and would have gotten shut out of the program."
The new law also requires the hiring of senior coordinators at the embassies in Baghdad and Kabul, as well as within the departments of defense and homeland security. Reisner said the positions will add much needed oversight. "One of the historic problems plaguing the program," she said, "has been a lack of coordination amongst the responsible agencies. This law requires someone who's there to actually be responsible for coordinating the program, someone who has sufficiently high security clearance to look into the evidence that is used to deny a special immigrant visa applicant."
Meanwhile, Congress has not voted to extend a similar visa program for Afghans. It expires later this year.
WNPR profiled an Iraqi man who moved to Connecticut under the SIV program. To learn more, check out the Coming Home Project page.