When we say "thanks," we offer an expression of our gratitude. The following can best be described as my humble expression on behalf of a friend who served our country -- who has dedicated himself to an important cause, and one that conveys his own sense of duty and grateful appreciation.
My friend, Joe Coon, an Iraq war veteran who lives and works in Washington D.C., recently wrote an opinion piece regarding a very important matter: the visa status of Iraqi interpreters employed by the U.S. military during the war effort.
This is a matter largely overlooked by the public, confounded by politicians and staggered by byzantine procedure.
Joe served in Iraq for all of 2005, stationed some 40 miles north of Baghdad near a town called Balad. If you recall, this period represented a major turning point in the post-invasion storyline. All hopes for a peaceful transition to democracy and a speedy U.S. withdrawal were shattered in May, the bloodiest month since the initial invasion, as Sunni Arab insurgents tore through the country. Iraq appeared to be hurtling towards disintegration. However, turmoil was tempered by promising news: the new constitution was ratified and elections for the new Iraqi National Assembly were held. Purple fingers were emblematic of hopeful hearts. These gains were due in no small part to the efforts U.S. servicemen and women -- and brave Iraqis who supported our troops and their nascent democracy.
Thankfully, Joe returned safely from his deployment. However, he left behind a close friend and critical partner -- an Iraqi national who served the U.S. army as an interpreter, by the name of Bandar. Ultimately, Bandar's problematic immigration through the special immigrant visa program (SIV) inspired Joe to speak out on behalf of those interpreters who were promised sanctuary in America. Many have been robbed of safe haven by ham-fisted political processes. They remain prime targets of the insurgency. Hundreds, if not thousands have already been killed. It's anybody's guess what will happen to those that remain after the U.S. leaves for good.
The SIV system was nearly brought to a halt by the Obama administration back in June, when two amateurish Kentucky-based "jihadis" stumbled into an FBI snare. However, neither man entered the country through the SIV program nor worked for the US government.
This leaves a lot of good Iraqis, who risked their lives to assist our troops, twisting in the wind.
In Joe's words:
"Whether you supported the Iraq war or not, we have a responsibility to those who aided US efforts, often at great risk to themselves. If Congress and the Obama administration have any honor at all, they will fix the Special Immigrant Visa system and save the lives of Iraqi interpreters. Time is running out."
Joe renewed his efforts to help those who helped him when President Obama announced that the troops would leave Iraq by Christmas. Since that time, he's been doing his best to increase awareness and encourage others to notify the representatives about an immigration process that is "inflexible, time consuming, and cruel."
On this thanksgiving, I'd ask that you do the same.
Please read Joe's opinion piece. He's infinitely more qualified to discuss the matter than I am. If you want to learn more, two organizations that do good work for faithful Iraqi asylum seekers are the Checkpoint One Foundation and the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project. Joe has also started a Facebook page "Stop the Killing of Iraqi Interpreters" to help get the word out.
Just my way of saying "thanks" to a friend who served.
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