Critics complain that it’ll cost too much to resettle and at least temporarily provide assistance to thousands. Additionally, there’s concern that extremists could slip into the country if restrictions are loosened. The cautionary tale: Two resettled Iraqis were arrested in Bowling Green, Ky., and charged with trying to send weapons and cash to al Qaida. Both pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization and lying about their backgrounds when they applied for refugee status.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., who introduced the legislation in the House, said while the United States should be careful with who was admitted, it shouldn’t use anomalies to deny thousands resettlement.
“I find this hyper-intense security focus odd when these are people we entrusted American lives to,” said Blumenauer, who became a strong backer of the program after Portland high school students looped him into their attempts to resettle an Iraqi interpreter.
Erik Malmstrom, 32, a former U.S. Army captain who served in Afghanistan and has returned for the past three summers on research trips, has seen firsthand a process he calls “inefficient and confusing.”
For three years, Malmstrom has tried to help nudge along the application of his translator-turned-friend, a young Afghan whom he identified by the pseudonym Ahmad for security reasons. At every turn, he said, bureaucratic hurdles have stymied Ahmad even though it would seem he’s just the kind of person Congress had in mind when the visa program was created in 2008.
“He was always the first interpreter to volunteer for the most difficult missions, even when they endangered his own life,” Malmstrom wrote in a letter of support for Ahmad’s application. “In an act of incredible bravery, he was seriously wounded by shrapnel during an insurgent ambush in which the U.S. Army unit that he was supporting escaped unharmed and unscathed.”
Still, Malmstrom said Ahmad was waiting to be granted a visa.
“We’re going to lose credibility and our legacy will be damaged if we’re not able, in a small way like this, to support our closest allies on the ground,” Malmstrom said in a phone interview Thursday. “It’s just the right thing to do.”