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An Unpaid Debt to Afghan Interpreters

Feb 17, 2016 8:36:20 AM / by Katharine Allen & Barry S. Olsen

From the New York Times...

Article Excerpt: Last fall, Congress made a change to the rules of a resettlement program for Afghan interpreters who risked their lives by working for the American government. To be eligible for an American visa, applicants would have to demonstrate that they had worked for the United States for at least two years, rather than one. There was no reason to think the new requirement would affect the roughly 10,300 people who already had pending applications.

But the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, in a baffling move, decided to apply the new rule retroactively. Immigration lawyers fear that it could disqualify thousands of applicants, including some who have been waiting for a visa for years.

This is unfair, and reflects the callous disregard bureaucrats involved in the program have shown toward Afghan interpreters since Congress created the program in 2009.

Link to the full article here.

InterpretAmerica's Take: If you are a regular reader of Interpreting the News, you will know that the plight of Afghan and Iraqi interpreters who served the Allied Forces is an issue we feel real urgency about. This week's news, publicized in one of the highest profile media outlets available, is not good. While a few visas are being granted and a small number of interpreters and their families have made it to safety in the US, thousands more are caught in the morass of an overly bureacratic and cautious process. 

Matt Zeller, a former US army officer who now directs No One Left Behind, an organization dedicated to helping stranded interpreters gain visas to the US, estimates that up to 3,300 interpreters already in the visa application process could have their applications denied because of the rule change. 

To remind us of the moral imperative behind the effort to make sure these visas are granted, The Washington Free Beacon, in another compelling article on the issue, writes:

"Karl Beilby, a civilian contractor who worked with Dave when he was embedded in the Pech River Valley in 2010, said the interpreter was one of the few who would agree to work in the notoriously dangerous area.

'One day in the Pech River Valley is more dangerous than an entire year in Kabul,' said Beilby. 'I had interpreters come out that would just refuse to go outside the wire, refuse to go out on a mission, and I would just send them back and tell them to get me someone else.'

'Almost every mission we got shot at. Almost every mission was a firefight, and Dave went with us,”'he said.

He recalled one ambush in which Dave, who had not been issued body armor or a gun at the time, helped Americans carry two wounded Afghan National Army members to a medical helicopter while under heavy fire. 'Dave was one of the guys running out into the open without any body armor, without a helmet, without a weapon, without anything,” Beilby said. 'And he was helping carry the stretchers.'"

We also applaud the American Translators Association, whose Letter to the Editor in support of the New York Time's coverage of this issue was published by the paper and can be seen here

What can we do about it? Several things:

1. Support the ATA's call "for Secretary of State John Kerry to rescind the retroactive application of the two-year employment rule and expedite the visas of our fellow Afghan and Iraqi interpreters." You can do so by filling out the form on the Secretary of State's website here:

2. Consider donating to No One Left Behind to aid them in their efforts to get this rule change overturned.

3. Publicize the issue on your social media feeds. Share this blog or any of the articles and organizations mentioned here.

Just as with any cause, it takes all of us to make a difference. Any action you can take matters.


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