Sunday, March 23, 2008

Let Them In!

Few Iraqi refugees allowed into U.S.

WASHINGTON — The United States admitted 68 Iraqi refugees in the six months through March, a tiny percentage of those fleeing their homes because of the war, State Department figures show.

The United States has been unable to accept more Iraqis in part because of the time needed for background checks, which have become more stringent since 9/11, Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of State, told USA TODAY.
There's definitely a need for security, but I'd take such arguments more seriously if we had actually secured our borders by now.
Yet, from October through March, the United States gave refuge to far more Somalis, Iranians, Burmese and Cubans than Iraqis, according to the State Department.
Will the Iraqis who helped us, such as the translators, be as shamefully treated as the Hmong?
In the early 1960s, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) began to recruit the indigenous Hmong people in Laos to join fighting the Vietnam War, named as a Special Guerrilla Unit led by General Vang Pao. Over 80% of the Hmong men in Laos were recruited by the CIA to join fighting for the "Secret War" in Laos. The CIA used the Special Guerrilla Unit as the counter attack unit to block the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the main military supply route from the north to the south. Hmong soldiers put their lives at risk in the frontline fighting for the United States to block the supply line and to rescue downed American pilots. As a result, the Hmong suffered a very high casualty rate; more than 40,000 Hmong were killed in the frontline, countless men were missing in action, thousands more were injured and disabled.
Following the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975, the Lao kingdom was overthrown by the communists and the Hmong people became targets of retaliation and persecution. While some Hmong people returned to their villages and attempted to resume life under the new regime, thousands more made the trek to and across the Mekong River into Thailand, often under attack. This marked the beginning of a mass exodus of Hmong people from Laos.
Of those Hmong who did not flee Laos, somewhere between two and three thousand were sent to re-education camps where political prisoners served terms of 3-5 years. Many Hmong died in these camps, after being subjected to hard physical labor and harsh conditions.[24] Thousands more Hmong people, mainly former soldiers and their families, escaped to remote mountain regions - particularly Phou Bia, the highest (and thus least accessible) mountain peak in Laos.
Small groups of Hmong people, many of them second or third generation descendants of former CIA soldiers, remain internally displaced in remote parts of Laos, in fear of government reprisals. Faced with continuing military operations against them by the government and a scarcity of food, some groups have begun coming out of hiding, while others have sought asylum in Thailand and other countries.[26]
Many Hmong/Mong war refugees resettled in the United States after the Vietnam War. Beginning in December 1975, the first Hmong/Mong refugees arrived in the U.S., mainly from refugee camps in Thailand; however, only 3,466 were granted asylum at this time under the Refugee Assistance Act of 1975. In May of 1976, another 11,000 were allowed to enter the United States, and by 1978 some 30,000 Hmong/Mong people had immigrated. This first wave was made up predominantly of men directly associated with General Vang Pao's secret army. It was not until the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980 that families were able to come in the U.S., becoming the second-wave of Hmong/Mong immigrants. Today, approximately 270,000 Hmong/Mong people reside in the United States, the majority of whom live in California (65,095 according to the 2000 U.S. census), Minnesota (41,800), and Wisconsin (33,791).
Here, a US Army soldier who served in Iraq, drives the issue home:
I found out that the interpreter our team had used for almost six months is dead. As I write this, I have no idea how he died. It could have been an IED (improvised explosive device), a sniper or one of the local death squads. I do know, though, that his death is just another in a countless chain of young men passing before their prime, both American and Iraqi.

His real name was Haydar but his nome-de-guerre was Zee. There were many occasions Zee put himself directly in danger to help us gather intelligence or uncover weapons caches, among other things. There is no way to tell how many U.S. lives Zee saved. Note I didn't say "may have saved." Zee's actions saved lives. Period. His payback was to watch our plane taxi down the runway at Baghdad International Airport and lift off bound for the states.
His goal was to come to the United States and enlist in either the Army or the Marine Corps. He admired our troops and I know it hurt Zee to watch our guys kick in a door or engage the enemy while he had to sit it out. He longed for the action. But more than that, he wanted his country back. So much, in fact, he risked his life by working with us.

Could we have helped him reach his goal? Sure, if a better system had existed. Of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Iraqis who risk death on behalf for our troops, only a handful have the opportunity to come to the United States each year, and our government does nothing to make it easy.

Why? Why aren't we doing more to help those who have helped us? Why do we fly nameless Iraqi citizens to the United States for taxpayer-funded surgery yet show none of the same compassion toward those who have an active role in our combat operations? Somebody somewhere has to recognize this.

There are several million people south of Texas who decide annually to disregard our laws, disrespect our culture and cross into our country illegally solely for their own selfish goals. Our government ignores it. Meanwhile, thousands of Iraqis are willing to stand in line, fill out paperwork and jump through countless hoops to get here and start over. And our government makes every effort to discourage it. Guess common sense is another casualty of war.

My heart was hard prior to serving in Iraq. It is harder still since my return. But there is still room for humanity, a space that allows me to feel for those in need. I'm not a human rights shill nor am I grinding a political ax. I'm just a guy who knows right from wrong, and the way our government treats our Iraqi friends is just wrong. We give them hope, then tear it away. We ask them to give all, then tell them we have little to give in return.
Why indeed?

This is not a rational policy.


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