04.28.08

S. 2829, A bill To Make Technical Corrections To Section 1244 Of The National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2008

I am pleased to join the bipartisan group of Senators on this bill who all recognize our obligation to help those Iraqis who have assisted the United States in Iraq. This legislation will remove obstacles encountered by the Departments of State and Homeland Security in issuing the 5000 Special Visas that Congress authorized in January for those Iraqi citizens. 

As part of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress provided 5000 Special Immigrant Visas for Iraqis who had aided the United States as interpreters in the country. As Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I have supported these efforts. The Departments of State and Homeland Security seem stymied and unable to implement what Congress has provided. In our efforts to remove any impediment to fast implementation and address any excuse for further delays, we seek passage of this bill as well, to cut through bureaucratic stalling and technical requirements. 

This administration has been woefully slow in recognizing its responsibilities not only to those Iraqis who have helped us, but to all Iraqis who have been displaced or have fled the violence still plaguing that country. The relative inaction by the administration with respect to those Iraqis whose lives are in grave danger due to their assistance of the United States is especially troubling. Action is needed now. The Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on this humanitarian problem more than 15 months ago. That hearing on the plight of Iraqi refugees was among our first, in January 2007. In the interim, the administration has continued to make promises it cannot, or will not keep with respect to the resettlement of Iraqi refugees in the United States. 

The administration’s failure to acknowledge the Iraqi refugee crisis is emblematic of its inability to address other serious human rights issues that are much of its own making. The injustice resulting from the administration’s interpretation of the material support and terrorism related bars that were enacted following September 11, 2001, continues to deprive legitimate asylum seekers of our protection. The consequences of these laws continue to go unaddressed, despite the fact that Congress has now twice given the Department of Homeland Security the authority to alleviate the situation. While Secretary Chertoff is unwilling to use this authority to provide asylum to those who need our protection, he has repeatedly used the vast authority ceded to him by proponents of the REAL ID Act to waive landmark environmental laws in the course of constructing a border wall between the United States and Mexico. 

This month, during the Judiciary Committee’s oversight hearing on the Department of Homeland Security, I followed up by asking Secretary Chertoff about his Department’s lack of progress on implementing the authority Congress has given to him to remedy the material support and terrorism bars. At that time I challenged him to fulfill the goal of legislation I authored and Congress enacted to provide relief to individuals such as Saman Kareem Ahmad, who received a commendation from General Petreaus for his work on behalf of the United States in Iraq and instructs U.S military personnel in preparation for service in Iraq. Although Mr. Ahmad was granted asylum, his application for a green card was denied because the organization with which he had once served, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, was deemed a “terrorist organization” by DHS. I urged Secretary Chertoff to use the authority he has been given to ensure that individuals like Mr. Ahmad were not denied a place in the United States because of inflexible and expansive readings of the so-called “material support” bar. I hope the administration takes the opportunity Congress has given it to correct this wrongheaded policy and practice. It is long past the time for this administration to take action and acknowledge the severe humanitarian consequences of its policies, whether in Iraq, or at our shores where the persecuted are seeking refuge. 

Providing for the safety of our Iraqi allies is only one aspect of an increasingly severe humanitarian crisis in Iraq. Refugees International recently reported that in the vacuum left by the failure of the Iraqi government to address the plight of millions of its internally displaced citizens, various non-State militias are providing assistance to those who are suffering. By the report’s account, these militias are finding fertile ground for recruiting among this population, with the Shiite Sadrist movement now being the “main service provider” to displaced Iraqis. We have been pressing the administration for some time to acknowledge this crisis and to make increased efforts to assist those Iraqis who have been internally displaced or who have left the country. Now we learn that the dangers associated with the administration’s failure to recognize the magnitude of this crisis go beyond the terrible human cost that has resulted and threaten to undermine any efforts to bring positive change to Iraq. 

The bill the Senate approves today will be another effort to encourage this administration to fulfill its obligations to those who have sacrificed significantly to assist the United States. It is my hope that this will end the unacceptable delays and provide long-overdue relief.

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