Griping about the federal bureaucracy is a time-honored American tradition, as old as the country itself. But, to our compatriots who indulge in such sentiment, we say: At least be glad that your lives aren't at stake. The same cannot be said of more than 500 translators who served bravely with American military units in Afghanistan and Iraq, and whose visa applications to immigrate to the United States are awaiting review by the State Department.
The inability--or unwillingness-- of the Bush administration to protect the thousands of translators who made targets out of themselves and their families by aiding our forces has been well documented. More than 250 translators working with Americans in Iraq have been killed, and the rest live under constant threat. We're relieved to report that, since the last time we addressed this subject over a year ago, there's been at least some progress. The 2008 defense authorization bill, signed into law by President Bush in January, contains a provision that makes 5,000 special immigrant visas available each year to Iraqis who worked for the United States and are in danger as a result.
The problem is that the implementation of the law is moving at a glacial pace. Translators eligible for visas are being held in limbo, and the State Department has informed them that it has "temporarily stopped processing cases. " There have been other hang-ups, too. Translators are required to negotiate a nearly impossible maze of paperwork, prompting some American soldiers to smuggle their translators into Jordan. Perversely, because the new law requires each translator to demonstrate that he or she "has or is experiencing an ongoing serious threat" of violence, officials are still debating what sort of documentation to require. (Perhaps a letter signed by Al Qaeda would suffice.)
This is bureaucratic insensitivity at its worst. Every translator who has worked with American soldiers is a target, and they all ought to be entitled to resettlement, should they so choose. Our coalition partners can serve as a model: In January, all 120 Iraqi translators who worked with Danish troops in Iraq were offered asylum in Denmark. Since the war began, according to the Los Angeles Times, about 7,000 translators have worked with U.S. forces in Iraq. Moving their cases quickly through the immigration system should not be beyond the capacity of the State Department. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice must explicitly make translator visas a top priority and insist that the delays stop.
"Shunning those who risk death to help us deliver freedom is un-American," wrote former Marine Owen West in The New York Post. We agree. This war has destroyed the lives of thousands of American families and many times more Iraqis. The decision to begin it can never be undone, but no great nation can stand aside as those who served it faithfully and honorably are murdered simply because they helped us.
By The Editors