For nearly a decade, Iraqi citizens worked side by side with US military forces, diplomats, contractors. They were the translators, the cooks and drivers, the aides who helped guide and explain their culture. They were a critical part of the US effort — and now they have been virtually abandoned.
They are, of course, not the only victims of the Trump administration’s latest caps on refugees announced last Friday, but inclusion under that new and onerous limit is particularly cruel. They put their own lives and futures at risk to help the US effort after the 2003 invasion that led to the fall of Saddam Hussein. They faced continuing threats from both Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias for the act of throwing in their lot with America.
But this is an administration that has shown no respect for the debts it owes — not to the Kurdish fighters of Syria who have literally been abandoned on the battlefield, and not to thousands of loyal Iraqis who want only to live out their lives free of fear in the nation they worked for.
The numbers as reported by The New York Times over the weekend tell a sad tale indeed. Some 110,000 Iraqis are awaiting approval as refugees in the special category of those who aided the US war effort. The Trump administration has agreed to accept 4,000 of them during the 2020 fiscal year. During the fiscal year that ended in September, only 153 Iraqi refugees were admitted. By contrast, at the height of the high-priority refugee program in 2014, the United States admitted 9,829 Iraqis.
This nation, which back in 2016 welcomed more than 110,000 refugees fleeing oppression from around the globe, will this year admit a total of only 18,000 under the new cap. Some 5,000 of those slots will be allotted specifically to refugees fleeing religious persecution.
Even the Pentagon had requested 6,000 slots for the high-priority Iraqis, but was overruled.
To make matters worse, that 4,000 figure may be more myth than reality, in large part because the already complicated vetting process for these refugees — which requires face-to-face interviews — has experienced delays after US personnel at the embassy in Baghdad and consulate in Irbil have been cut to a virtual skeleton staff. Apparently “circuit riders” from US Citizenship and Immigration Services help out with the interview process — when they’re in town.
“The security checks take time, but they are critical,” a State Department spokeswoman insisted.
US Representative Seth Moulton of Marblehead, who as a Marine served four tours in Iraq and who successfully fought to win refugee status for several of his own translators, called the latest administration move “nothing short of an outright betrayal” of “those who put their lives on the line not just for their country but for me and for our country.
“This is another place where Congress has to step up,” he said. There are several pieces of legislation already filed, of which Moulton is a cosponsor, to increase both the overall refugee caps and special status admissions. Several House Republicans, some of them fellow veterans, are on board as well, Moulton said.
“If we betray the Iraqis and the Afghans and the Syrians now,” he added, “it will cost more American lives in the future.”
That really is the bottom line here. The refugee numbers — for all refugees, but especially for those who were an integral part of the US war effort in Iraq — are appalling on their face. But they are part and parcel of a broader foreign policy that places little or no value on the loyalty of friends and allies.
This latest act of abandonment has little to do with national security and everything to do with the next election cycle.