Following a Court Filing, @StateDept Issues Iraqi Refugee John Doe a Special Immigrant Visa

Posted: 1:38 pm EDT
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In November last year, we wrote about John Doe, an Iraqi refugee allowed by Judge Richard W. Roberts to file his complaint under a pseudonym in the District Court of the District of Columbia.  As of the filing of the Complaint, it had been over three years since John Doe first filed his papers for chief of mission (COM) approval. Over two years had elapsed since John Doe submitted his SIV Application materials. In addition, it was over one year and nine months since John Doe completed his interview, the final step in his application process (see Meet John Doe, an Iraqi Refugee Who Works For Uncle Sam, and Still Waiting For Resettlement in the Home of the Brave).

According to court records, the SIV was issued and the case was subsequently dismissed by the District Court of the District of Columbia. The case is John Doe v. State Department, et. al., Civil Action No. 15-cv-01971-RBW.

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Snapshot: SIV-Related Resignations in Afghanistan, State Dept and USAID, 2010 to 2015

Posted: 2:01 am EDT
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Via GAO:

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Meet John Doe, an Iraqi Refugee Who Works For Uncle Sam, and Still Waiting For Resettlement in the Home of the Brave

Posted: 3:01 am EDT
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In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, opposition is growing in the U.S. to the Obama administration’s plans to admit up to 10,000 refugees from Syria’s civil war. Below via the Pew Research’s Fact Tank:

A new Bloomberg Politics poll found that 53% of Americans don’t want to accept any Syrian refugees at all; 11% more would accept only Christian refugees from Syria. More than two dozen governors, most of them Republicans, have said they’ll oppose Syrian refugees being resettled in their states. And on Thursday the House of Representatives passed a bill blocking the admission of Syrian and Iraqi refugees unless they pass strict background checks.

According to the Washing Examiner, under the legislation, no Syrian or Iraqi refugee would be admitted into the United States until the nation’s top federal law enforcement officials certify that they do not pose a safety or terrorism threat.

Now this …

 

The GOP candidates appear to be in a parallel race on who can put out the most dehumanizing idea when talking about refugees: spoiled milk, rabid dogs, Muslim database, special IDs, ending housing assistance, etc. What’s next?

We will remember this week as that time when the 2016 presidential campaigns have gone heartless for the win.

Here’s one story that might give folks a glimpse of how lengthy, and how convoluted is the USG refugee process.

On November 3, 2015, Judge Richard W. Roberts allowed John Doe, an Iraqi refugee to file his complaint under a pseudonym in the District Court of the District of Columbia:

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According to court documents, John Doe voluntarily assisted with the U.S.-led reconstruction efforts following the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq, and has received numerous recommendations for his work in connection with those efforts.  But this assistance has come at a significant cost to John Doe and his loved ones. Because of his work, John Doe is a target for those who seek to intimidate, harm, and kill those who have assisted the U.S. in its reconstruction efforts.

Court documents also say that John Doe served as a Provincial Model Clinic Support Coordinator in a USAID funded program. As part of his service, John Doe reportedly worked to improve access to primary health care in and around Kirkuk, Iraq by coordinating health clinics, training clinic staff, and conducting health surveys. Since October 2014, John Doe has served as a Senior Medical Officer at another USAID-funded projects. As part of his service, John Doe’s reported responsibilities include planning, development, implementation, oversight, monitoring, and reporting for two projects: static, camp-based medical clinics and mobile medical units that move throughout displaced populations in and around Erbil.

John Doe is an Iraqi citizen currently residing in Erbil, Iraq. For over two years, since fleeing to Erbil, John Doe has worked for programs funded by USAID in furtherance of the U.S.-led reconstruction efforts following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. During this time, John Doe has risked his life alongside U.S. personnel to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure. By helping with the U.S. reconstruction efforts, John Doe has knowingly placed himself, his wife, and his small child in danger. If John Doe’s service to the United States were to become fully known in Iraq, he would likely be killed by persons opposed to the United States and to the Iraqis who have assisted the United States.

He applied as a refugee in 2010:

John Doe first sought protection from the U.S. Government through his application for emigration to the United States with the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).

On April 8, 2010, John Doe requested to be added to his sister’s USRAP application out of fear for his own safety after members of his family were threatened and physically assaulted because of their work for the U.S. Government. John Doe provided all necessary documentation and took all steps necessary for his USRAP application, including attending his Department of Homeland Security (DHS) interview. On September 22, 2010, he was notified that his case was deferred and would continue to be processed. Despite continued assurances that his case is being processed, John Doe has yet to receive a decision on his USRAP application. As of the filing of this complaint, it has been over five years and four months since John Doe first submitted his USRAP application. Over five years have elapsed since John Doe attended his DHS interview. In addition, it has now been over four years and eleven months since John Doe was notified that his application was deferred for further processing.

He also applied under the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program in 2012:

Finding himself with a deferred USRAP application and with no indication that he would receive a timely response to the application, John Doe sought to avail himself of the protections offered by the SIV program. On August 11, 2012, John Doe’s wife submitted on behalf of herself and John Doe all documents needed to obtain Chief of Mission Approval (COM Approval). COM Approval was granted on June 17, 2013, and John Doe submitted all necessary documentation for the SIV application (the SIV Application) on August 15, 2013. On November 19, 2013, John Doe attended his visa interview at the U.S. Embassy.

As of the filing of this Complaint, it has been over three years since John Doe first filed his papers for COM Approval. Over two years have elapsed since John Doe submitted his SIV Application materials. In addition, it has now been over one year and nine months since John Doe completed his interview, the final step in his application process.

John Doe has exhausted efforts to work with Defendants to receive a timely decision on his SIV Application. Following repeated requests for information concerning his application, John Doe has been told by the U.S. Embassy on several occasions that his case remains in “additional administrative processing” and that no estimate of how long it will take to complete such processing can be provided.

Defendants’ substantial delay in processing John Doe’s SIV Application is not only unreasonable, but egregious-particularly given the dangerous situation faced by John Doe. Each day that John Doe remains in Iraq leaves him in mortal danger. This danger increases by the day as the security situation in Iraq deteriorates. Additionally, John Doe’s wife and child who have been issued SIVs-plan to travel to the United States on October 5, 2015 in advance of the November 4, 2015 expiration of their visas. By failing to make a decision on John Doe’s SIV application, Defendants have created another hardship for John Doe in forcing him to be left behind and separated from his wife and young child.

The court filing says that given the urgency of John Doe’s situation, and because Defendants have been unresponsive to John Doe’s repeated requests that his SIV Application be decided, John Doe has no choice but to seek relief from this Court compelling Defendants to adjudicate his SIV application.

If this is what happened to an Iraqi refugee who helped with USG reconstruction efforts in Iraq, what can other Iraqi and Syrian refugees expect with their resettlement hope in the United States?

And since you’ve read this far, do read Phil Klay’s response to the refugee crisis.  He  served with the U.S. Marines in Iraq during the 2007 and 2008 surge. He is the author of Redeployment, which won the National Book Award for fiction in 2014. He tweeted his powerful reaction to the congressional news today. In one of them Klay wrote, “It’s only during frightening times when you get to find out if your country really deserves to call itself the ‘home of the brave.'”

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Revisiting the Mustafa Akarsu Local Guard Force Support Act

— Domani Spero
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In December last year, we urged your support for a bill in Congress intended to provide Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) to a surviving spouse or child of an employee of the United States Government killed overseas in the line of duty (see Please Ask Congress to Support the Mustafa Akarsu Local Guard Force Support Act).

This Act may be cited as the “Mustafa Akarsu Local Guard Force Support Act”.

SEC. 2. SPECIAL IMMIGRANT STATUS FOR CERTAIN SURVIVING SPOUSES AND CHILDREN.

In General.–Section 101(a)(27) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(27)) is amended in subparagraph (D)– (1) by inserting “(i)” before “an immigrant who is an employee”; and (2) by inserting the following: “(ii) an immigrant who is the surviving spouse or child of an employee of the United States Government abroad killed in the line of duty, provided that the employee had performed faithful service for a total of fifteen years, or more, and that the principal officer of a Foreign Service establishment (or, in the case of the American Institute of Taiwan, the Director thereof) in his discretion, recommends the granting of special immigrant status to the spouse and children and the Secretary of State approves such recommendation and find that it is in the national interest to grant such status;”. (b) Effective Date.–This Act and the amendments made by this Act shall take effect beginning on January 31, 2013, and shall have retroactive effect.

Check out this page showing support for H.R. 1781. Warning, reading the comments posted against this bill will melt your brain and make you want to throw your shoes at somebody.

A comment from a Maine voter says it all:

Some of the ignorant comments I have seen regarding this case make me ashamed. We have an obligation to the families of these guards who make the ultimate sacrifice, and a few nice words and a flag just don’t cut it. We need to do the right thing here.

So, on June 14, 2013, this bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.  As of 12/13/2014 no related bill information has been received for H.R.1781 – the Mustafa Akarsu Local Guard Force Support Act.  The majority of the bills die in committee, and that apparently happened to this one, too.

The 114th Congress will be seated on January 3, 2015 and will run until January 3, 2017.  The GOP has taken control of both the Senate and the House. It is a worthwhile cause to urge our congressional representatives to revisit this bill again when they return in January, with great hope that it will pass this time.

We think it is important to emphasize that this bill, hopefully reintroduced in the 114th Congress, has a very narrow coverage — only for a spouse or child of a USG employee killed in the line of duty, and only if the employee has performed faithful service for at least fifteen years. It also needs the recommendation of the principal officer at post and the approval of the Secretary of State.

If Congress can allocate 50,000 permanent resident visas annually to persons from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States (see “Lottery” Diversity Visas), we can find no reason why it cannot allocate visas to the next of kin of persons who actually died while protecting United States government officials and properties.

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Contact Congress: http://www.usa.gov/Contact/US-Congress.shtml

We believe this site will also update when the 114th Congress is seated and can be used to contact congressional representatives next year: http://www.contactingthecongress.org

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Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Program for Iraqi Nationals to End Sept 30, Or How to Save One Interpreter At a Time

— By Domani Spero

In June this year, we blogged about the potential termination of the SIV program for Iraqis who have worked for or on behalf of the U.S. Government in Iraq (See Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa Program: Potential Termination on September 30, 2013). The recent OIG inspection report on the US Embassy in Baghdad and it constituent posts indicate that the impending termination of Iraqi SIVs at the end of September this year has not been publicized because US Embassy Baghdad, and the Bureaus of Consular Affairs (CA), and Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) expect the program to be extended.

On September 12, USCIS sent a reminder and issued a statement that authorization for the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program for Iraqi nationals who worked for or on behalf of the United States government will expire on Sept. 30, 2013. Individuals applying under this program, including family members, must be admitted to the United States or adjust their statuses before Oct. 1, 2013.

The program was created by Section 1244 of Public Law 110-181, as amended by Public Law 110-242. It covers Iraqi nationals who—during the period between March 20, 2003, and the present—have been employed by or on behalf of the United States government in Iraq for a period of not less than one year. The expiration date also applies to spouses and unmarried child(ren) accompanying or following to join the principal applicant.

As announced at its inception, the Iraqi SIV program will expire on Sept. 30, 2013, at 11:59 p.m. EDT unless Congress extends the program. After Sept. 30, 2013, USCIS will reject any petitions or applications filed based on the Iraqi SIV program. Beginning Oct. 1, 2013, USCIS will suspend processing of any pending Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, or Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, filed based on the Iraqi SIV program.

For updates, please check our website at www.uscis.gov or call the National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283. You can also find useful information on the U.S Embassy in Iraq’s website at http://iraq.usembassy.gov/siv-special.html.

If the program will expire in three weeks, and the individual has to be admitted to the United States before October 1, 2013, the door is left with just a crack.  Who can get an SIV in three weeks and slip into that crack?

Matt Zeller,  a United States Army veteran of the Afghan War and a Fellow with the Truman National Security Project writes about a specific visa case, under a similar program in Afghanistan:

From 2011 until July 2013, Janis waited for word that the State Department had approved his visa. Several times the US embassy in Kabul asked him to file additional paperwork and even appear for medical and personal interviews. At every appointment Janis would ask how much longer the process would take, but no one could ever give him a more specific answer other than “months to years.”[…] Going through this complicated process educated me beyond imagination. I’m convinced that the current visa program, while well intentioned, cannot succeed as designed. […] for Janis to receive his visa, organizations such as the FBI, Homeland Security, and State Department all had to individually approve his visa application during their security background investigation, using their own individual opaque databases.

Read One Veteran’s Battle to Bring His Afghan Interpreter to the United States.

Something else Mr. Zeller did.  He started a Change.org petition and he and Janis did media interviews (by phone from Kabul). Yahoo! News reportedly published the first story about Janis on Sept. 6, and within hours the petition had thousands of signatures.  Here is the HuffPo Live video interview.

Mr. Zeller, a forceful advocate for the person who saved his life also asked supporters to contact their members of Congress and get these elected officials to write and call the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the State Department, and anyone else they thought could help expedite Janis’ visa for approval. Note that visa petitions are approved by DHS, once approved, only then can visas be issued by State.  By the time it was over, and 104,588 signatures later, Mr. Zeller won his campaign to secure a visa for Janis Shinwari, his interpreter while he was in Afghanistan.  Now he is on a mission to save his other interpreter, Ehsan.

We admire what Mr. Zeller is doing for his interpreters.   But we worry about applicants who qualify for SIVs both in Afghanistan and Iraq but do not have vocal advocates for their cases.   In a perfect world, we don’t need a Matt Zeller or a change.org for the US Embassy in Kabul or Baghdad to issue these visas.  But the fact that Janis received a visa after a change.org petition and after a lot of press noise, tells us something folks already know — the system is not working as it should but one person can make a difference.   If Mr. Zeller can  replicate this campaign with Ehsan’s case, we suspect that in short order, the State Department will be swamped with similar campaigns.

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Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa Program: Potential Termination on September 30, 2013

— By Domani Spero 

Section 1244 of the Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, authorizes the issuance of up to 5,000 Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) annually through fiscal year (FY) 2012 to Iraqi nationals who have worked for or on behalf of the U.S. Government in Iraq and who meet certain requirements. The Act opens the SIV process to Iraqi employees and contractors who have been employed by or on behalf of the U.S. Government in Iraq on or after March 20, 2003, for a period of one year or more, and who have experienced or are experiencing an ongoing serious threat as a consequence of that employment.

The recent OIG inspection report on the US Embassy in Baghdad and it constituent posts indicate that the impending termination of Iraqi SIVs at the end of September this year has not been publicized because they (embassy, CA and PRM bureaus) “expect the program to be extended.”

Excerpt from the report below:

Applications for the Iraqi special immigrant visa program make up approximately 65 percent of immigrant visa cases. The special immigrant visa program, designed for employees and former employees of the U.S. Government in Iraq with at least 1 year of service, was instituted by law in 2008 and will terminate at the end of FY 2013 unless Congress extends the program. Embassy Baghdad, the Bureau of Consular Affairs, and the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, each of which handles a portion of the program, have not publicized the imminent termination of the program because they expect the program to be extended. The proposed legislation would extend the application deadline until the end of FY 2018 for applicants who began their employment with the U.S. Government before October 1, 2012. Announcement of the impending termination of the program to affected applicants will allow those individuals who may have qualifying U.S. Government employment to make an informed decision as to whether to apply before the program ends. The approximately 2,000 Iraqi special immigrant visa cases in the Washington pipeline for administrative processing may not be completed before the program’s termination.

Recommendation 18: Embassy Baghdad, in coordination with the Bureau of Consular Affairs and the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, should alert pending applicants about the potential termination of the Iraqi special immigrant visa program on September 30, 2013. (Action: Embassy Baghdad, in coordination with CA and PRM)

The immigrant visa unit has been holding thousands of Iraqi passports for special immigrant visa applicants and their immediate family members pending the results of administrative processing. Consular sections worldwide are advised not to retain travel documents for indefinite periods because those documents belong to the applicants, not to the U.S. Government. These families cannot leave the country because the consular section has their passports. In addition, if the embassy were to draw down or evacuate, the section would have to destroy these travel documents. Some of these passports have been held for several years.

Recommendation 19: Embassy Baghdad should return the Iraqi passports of special immigrant visa program applicants. (Action: Embassy Baghdad)

The full report is here.