Don't abandon them

February 07, 2007

Iraqis who have worked for the United States have put their lives on the line - the least the U.S. can do for them now is grant them visas to come live here.

Take interpreters, for instance - who are so necessary because there are still so few Arabic speakers in the U.S. military, more than five years after 9/11. They've served alongside soldiers and Marines, in battle and in raids - 5,000 of them. Many have been killed, and more wounded. Dozens are being treated for severe injuries at a hospital in Jordan, and many of them believe they can't go back to Iraq because their work on America's behalf will mark them as dead men.

Let them in. Since the war began in 2003, the U.S. has admitted just 466 Iraqi refugees, according to Ellen R. Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state. That's shameful.

Some worry that interpreters will want to bring their families along. Let them. Some worry that if interpreters are allowed in, drivers, construction workers, nurses and secretaries who have worked for American organizations will also demand to be allowed in. Bring 'em on.

There are today more than a million Vietnamese living in the United States, and a total of about 300,000 Cambodians and Laotians. Some have had problems adjusting, but not huge problems. The poverty level among Vietnamese is about the same as it is for Americans generally. The influx from Indochina has not strained the American fabric, and in fact has contributed to the cultural liveliness of America and clearly reinvigorated some moribund neighborhoods.

There are two arguments against allowing Iraqis to move here as refugees. First, it would be an admission that Iraq is not the democratic haven it was supposed to be, and more broadly it would be a recognition of failure. But that's just saying it would be a recognition of reality. Second, there's the danger that jihadists of one stripe or another would enter this country under the guise of refugees. That's a concern (it wasn't a problem with the Vietnamese), but the way to address it is through the application of a little vigilance with the granting of visas.

Today, 2 million Iraqis have fled their country. That's a measure of the damage that has been done since the U.S. invasion. At the very least, those who have risked death in order to help Americans are owed something in return - a chance to enjoy the safety and opportunity of a new life in the United States.

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