Nearly four years ago, Congress created a special program that set aside 5,000 visas annually for five years to help Iraqis who risked their lives working alongside U.S. troops and diplomats to resettle in this country. These were people who worked as translators, as drivers or in other jobs helping Americans in the war, and many of them faced anger and even threats of violence as a result.
But though the program was greeted with fanfare and relief when it was passed, federal officials now acknowledge that the Special Immigrant Visa program is languishing. As of March, just under 3,200 of the 20,000 visas available up until then had been issued.
Though the Obama administration has publicly said the program remains a priority, the numbers suggest otherwise: Only 154 people were admitted in fiscal year 2011, according to federal officials. Moreover, no one in the administration can explain what is causing the delays or even how a program that was designed to serve as a lifeline to people in immediate danger has become a bureaucratic nightmare. The State Department says it has eliminated redundant documentation requirements, and blames the backlog on enhanced security measures designed to weed out possible terrorists. The Department of Homeland Security says the additional vetting and pre-departure checks put in place late last year are necessary, but that they have not resulted in long waits.