Posted by: Tony Carson | 20 September, 2007

Decency demands U.S. take more Iraq refugees; Homeland Security proud of the pathetic record

Upwards of 4 million Iraqis have been displaced as a result of the US invasion. Well over 2 million of them are forced to live as refugees in the bordering states. Relatively few have an opportunity to immigrate; a negligible number of those make it to the US.

Here is an editorial from USA Today: Decency demands that U.S. speed intake of Iraq refugees

Our view on humanitarian crisis: Decency demands that U.S. speed intake of Iraq refugees

The road to hell, the saying goes, is paved with good intentions. That certainly captures the way the United States is treating tens of thousands of Iraqis who are marked for death because they have worked for Americans in some capacity, many as interpreters, drivers or cooks. Despite promises from President Bush and officials in his administration, only a trickle are being admitted to the USA.

How small a trickle? Last year, a small town in Sweden named Sodertalje absorbed 1,100 Iraqi refugees, twice as many as the entire United States.

The problem, when it comes right down to it, is not intent but bureaucracy. Iraqis seeking to immigrate must navigate a Kafkaesque maze. Except for some employees at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, they can’t apply in Iraq. They have to flee and join about 2 million Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries. They must then establish refugee status with the United Nations, which takes months. Finally, they must submit to separate rounds of interviews with officials from the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, which is looking out for would-be terrorists. That takes more months.

The story of one family that made it illustrates the problem. Translator Khalid Abood al-Khafajee, 60, managed to get to Jordan. He might have languished there for years but for a grateful U.S. Marine, Capt. Zachary Iscol, who credits Abood with keeping dozens of Americans safe in sometimes-tense situations. Iscol pushed Abood’s case so relentlessly it became a focus of a congressional hearing. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., quipped that perhaps “1.7 million hearings would bring 1.7 million people out.”

But the figures are no joke. The Bush administration was slow to recognize the refugee crisis, which undermines its assertions that the invasion was the right decision and that Iraq is on its way to stability. Since 2003, the United States has admitted just 1,232 Iraqi refugees. In February, the State Department promised to admit 7,000 by the end of this month. It reduced that to 2,000 but might not even achieve half of that.

The United States can’t accept all the Iraqi refugees, and it needs to screen out potential terrorists. Even so, the nation has a moral obligation to the Iraqis who risked their lives and their families’ safety by cooperating with the United States. It also stands to reap a substantial benefit.

As with the Vietnamese refugees absorbed into the USA during and after the Vietnam War, the Iraqis have the potential to become an economic and cultural bridge between the two countries — one badly needed to counter anti-Americanism in Iraq and the Middle East.

The State Department and Homeland Security have been trading blame for the slow pace of processing refugees. Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, points at Homeland Security. Homeland Security says that’s inaccurate. Belatedly, on Wednesday, both departments appointed Iraq refugee coordinators to cut through red tape. Congress is considering legislation to do the same.

All are steps in the right direction. But the question remains: If a small town in Sweden can absorb so many Iraqis, shouldn’t the United States be able to do far better?

To suggest the other side of this story, USA Today published a letter by Lori Scialabba, senior adviser for Iraqi Refugee Affairs to the secretary of Homeland Security. It is here with all its mindless spin. AN example:

It has been alleged that cases are not processed quickly enough. As a career civil servant with extensive experience in immigration policy, I respectfully take issue with this charge.

The necessary resources are now in place in the region, and the pace has been faster than suggested. In fact, we are processing Iraqi refugees faster than any other nationality.

We are proud of America’s record, and we intend to build on it. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have pledged to further the administration’s priority of welcoming legitimate Iraqi refugees.

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