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Hope for refugees

A new law will allow 5,000 Iraqis into the U.S. each year -- but it needs to be funded and enforced.

December 19, 2007

It has taken far too long, but Congress has finally begun addressing the plight of Iraqis who have become targets for violence because they worked for the United States or its contractors.

Included in the defense authorization bill, which President Bush is expected to sign this week, is an amendment that will allow the United States to admit up to 5,000 Iraqis each year for the next five years as "special immigrants." The refugee language, originally written by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), corrects a number of cynical U.S. policies that drove some of our most loyal friends and employees to flee their jobs and their homes and stranded them for years in unwelcoming foreign countries, unable to travel to the United States or to return to Iraq. Some have been murdered while waiting for U.S. visas.

The new law allows Iraqis who believe that they are endangered to apply to the U.S. for help while still in Iraq, without first having to make it to one of the neighboring countries that are all trying to keep Iraqi refugees out. It expands the number of Department of Homeland Security personnel who interview refugees in the countries to which they've fled. And for those who cannot get to a processing center outside Iraq -- or risk venturing into Baghdad's Green Zone -- interviews by videoconference will be permitted.

Two more hurdles remain before we can pay our moral debt to those who have suffered for helping us. Congress must fund the expedited processing programs -- which is always trickier than mandating them. And the administration must implement them quickly and vigorously. That some refugees are beginning to return to Iraq in no way eliminates our duty to rescue those who, because of their ties to the United States, cannot live safely in their homeland.

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