Laura Kasinof / San Francisco Chronicle & Walter Pincus / The Washington Post – 2008-07-27 10:23:03
Iraqis who Worked for Army Denied US Entry
Laura Kasinof / San Francisco Chronicle Foreign Service
CAIRO (July 27, 2008) — Kareem Ali Hussein was stunned when he read the Department of Homeland Security letter that branded him ineligible for refugee status in the United States: “It has been determined that you ordered, incited, assisted or otherwise participated in the persecution of others,” the letter stated.
Hussein, who had worked as a translator for the US army in Iraq for 2 1/2 years, fled to Egypt with his wife and seven children in 2005 after their 13-year-old son was held hostage for 11 days because of his father’s ties to the United States. A militant Shiite group released him after Hussein paid a ransom of $14,000.
Now, almost three years after leaving Baghdad, the Hussein family lives in a Cairo suburb with no means of support. They are among an estimated 150,000 Iraqi refugees in Egypt, who are not allowed to work or send their children to public schools. They are also among the estimated 4.2 million Iraqis who have fled the country or moved to safer areas inside Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003.
For the time being, Hussein gets by on family savings, and manages to send his children to private schools. But he figures the funds will be exhausted by 2009.
Many other families are in the same state of limbo.
The Bush administration has come under criticism from lawmakers and advocacy groups over how it has dealt with Iraqi employees who have been targeted by insurgents seeking to derail US efforts to stabilize Iraq. Iraqis who have worked for American entities are entitled to an expedited resettlement to the United States through the US Refugee Admissions Program’s Direct Access Program. Instead, they often languish in a third country due to a rigid screening and background check and required recommendations from a senior US supervisor.
“Iraqis can be disadvantaged (by red tape) when they actually should be eligible for resettlement,” said Michael Kagan, a senior fellow in human rights law at the American University in Cairo.
Kagan says the US government does not judge Iraqis on a case-by-case basis. Instead, he claims, they make broad generalizations about an applicant’s involvement with the Iraqi government before the 2003 invasion. Any association with Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party or the Iraqi army can result in an automatic exclusion from resettlement in the United States, he says.
“It’s very much guilt by association because of this overly broad exclusion in US immigration law,” Kagan said.
Guilt by Association?
Those who are denied resettlement based on human rights abuses fall under an exclusion clause in the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The clause was originally intended for Nazi war criminals, denying refugee status to those who had “committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity.”
US officials, however, deny they make decisions based on guilt by association.
William Wright, a spokesman for US Citizenship and Immigration Services, says every case is “adjudicated based on the individual facts of that particular case.”
Moreover, he says, Iraqi refugees are denied entry into the United States if they cannot prove that conditions in Iraq make it too dangerous for them to return, establish past persecution, or are unable to refute claims of persecuting others.
“My (Homeland Security) interviewer asked me, ‘Hey, how can you convince me that you didn’t execute people?’ ” said Kareem Ali Hussein, who served in the Iraqi army for nearly 30 years. “I told him, ‘Sir, my work was just to provide food and equipment. I had no authority to kill people.’ I don’t know how he took his decision and rejected me.”
Noor, an Iraqi woman who asked that her full name not be used, said she was shocked to discover “persecutor” checked on her rejection letter from the Department of Homeland Security. Noor says she had worked as a representative of Baghdad province under the supervision of high-level US policymakers in drafting legislation for the new Iraqi government. She and her family fled to Egypt in 2005 after armed men broke into their Baghdad home and beat her and her husband for being “American agents.” Noor believes she was denied entry into the United States because of her job as a land surveyor for Saddam Hussein’s government.
“There is a person, he is under persecution, but he is a persecutor. How is that?” said Noor’s husband, who asked to remain anonymous.
Both Noor and Hussein have numerous letters of recommendation for “outstanding leadership and patriotism” from officials as high up as Paul Bremer, former head of the now-defunct Coalition Provisional Authority. Hussein even has a letter from the US Army Executive Officer Andrew Cobos, who vouches for his integrity.
Hussein was “responsible, trustworthy and good at what he did,” said Cobos in an e-mail message. He noted that the company that hired Hussein to translate for the US Army, Kellogg Brown & Root, has a screening process that “usually weeds out those with questionable credentials.”
The Next Step
In the meantime, both Hussein and Noor are waiting for the results of an appeal the US government. If she is denied entry into the United States again, Noor says she will contact Oprah Winfrey. “Oprah says everything is possible,” she said.
But Hussein says he will be forced to return to Iraq without his family to look for work.
“I just wonder why the US Army put my family and me in this bad situation,” he said. I “worked with them and cooperated with them. I put my family and myself in very bad danger. They should help me, not abandon me.”
Iraqi Refugees who Have Worked for US
The International Organization for Migration is the overseas processing agency for the State Department’s Direct Access Program, a special immigration program for Iraqi refugees who have worked with Americans.
An Iraqi is eligible for an interview if he or she has documents and references to prove he or she has worked for the US government, media, nonprofit organization or private company. If the IOM meeting goes well, the next step is an interview with the Department of Homeland Security.
At the end of June, only 335 Iraqis who had worked for American entities had been resettled in the United States out of 2,634 applications, according to Regina Wills, public affairs specialist at the Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration.
Just this month, the Department of Homeland Security unveiled guidelines for admitting up to 5,000 Iraqi translators in each of the next five years who face “an ongoing serious threat” stemming from their ties to the United States. Their spouses and unmarried minor children also can receive visas.
The congressionally mandated changes were initially sought by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., an ardent critic of the Iraq war. Coveted refugee status had previously been limited to 500 Iraqis in each of the past two years.
Iraqis make up just 8 percent of refugees admitted into the United States.
E-mail Laura Kasinof at email@example.com.
© 2008 Hearst Communications Inc.
Iraqis Who Worked for US Find Resettlement Aid Slow in Coming
Walter Pincus / The Washington Post
WASHINGTON (June 16, 2008) — The List Project is a nonprofit group that seeks to bring to the United States hundreds of Iraqis whose lives are in danger because they worked for the US government or military. Despite the efforts of its founder and others, it has succeeded in only a small number of cases.
Kirk W. Johnson said the list, which he began in February 2007 with the names of 40 Iraqis who worked for the US Agency for International Development, now contains nearly 1,000 names, including 21 applicants in the past two weeks. After 16 months of work, only 31 Iraqis on the list, and 61 of their family members, have arrived in the United States.
The US government’s overall performance is not much better, according to State Department officials. In the two years that an Iraqi visa program has been available for people who worked for the United States, only 763 of more than 7,000 Iraqis have been granted entry. When spouses and children are included, the number of Iraqis who had come to the United States under the program through the end of May is 1,696.
“I believe the crisis of US-affiliated Iraqis represents the most urgent moral and strategic imperative the war has produced,” Johnson said. “How we address it will impact our standing in the region for at least a generation to come.”
He spoke last Wednesday to 40 people brought together in a basement room of the Rayburn House Office Building under the auspices of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, an independent, nonpartisan congressional entity.
Johnson described a couple he met this year in Jordan who had worked as interpreters for the Army’s 10th Mountain Division for three years. Almost two years ago, they had fled illegally after receiving threats because they were “collaborators with America.”
They rationed their life savings because they had no work permits. Eighteen months passed, Johnson said, as they were “clearing hurdle after hurdle, patiently retelling their story to the array of [US] officers, who struggled to implement a labyrinthine resettlement process.” During that time, the woman had become pregnant. After overcoming the most difficult obstacle, approval of the Department of Homeland Security, she was required to have a chest X-ray as part of the final medical test.
“Knowing X-rays might pose a risk to her baby,” Johnson said, “she inquired about whether or not the X-ray might be waived or an alternate method utilized.” She had about six weeks left before it would be unsafe to fly, “and as an illegal she refused to face the uncertainty of delivery in a Jordanian hospital, where her husband might be arrested or care denied.”
Johnson said he pressed the State Department for a waiver but one did not come. Instead, he said, the couple decided to return to Iraq and stay in hiding, “uncertain about which hospital would be safe for her to deliver her baby, which is due any day.”
Wednesday’s final presentation came from Ibrahim, an Iraqi, whose identity was protected because his family is still in Iraq. He described joining USAID in 2003 because “we wanted to work with Americans, who would teach us about the world outside. We wanted to pursue the American dream.”
The dream turned to a nightmare after his name and photo were put up on a USAID Web site. There was no plan to protect him and his colleagues, he said, which “led us to believe our lives were worthless in the eyes of those who were supposedly trying to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis.”
Eventually, he and others received a death threat in a letter and he fled the country. He went to India, then to Syria and finally to Egypt, where he hid in Cairo’s slums. After registering with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, he was picked up by Egyptian police and imprisoned.
He reached out to Johnson, with whom he had worked. Lawyers from Holland & Knight, working with Johnson, helped get Ibrahim to the United States.
Ibrahim said a new program, passed this year by Congress, opened up processing in Baghdad instead of requiring people to get to Syria or Jordan to be interviewed.
But, he added, the State Department coordinators in Baghdad are understaffed, don’t have enough resources to process applications and require applicants to come inside the Green Zone — though there are not enough staff members to escort them through checkpoints.
“This has led to a Catch-22. A mechanism for people to escape Iraq has been created, but only those with sufficient connections to enter the Green Zone can take advantage of it,” he said.
National security and intelligence reporter Walter Pincus pores over the speeches, reports, transcripts and other documents that flood Washington and every week uncovers the fine print that rarely makes headlines — but should. If you have any items that fit the bill, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2008 The Washington Post Company
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