In 2007, I introduced the first legislation to help the Iraqi and Afghan nationals who assisted Americans in those countries and get them to safety in the United States. These were the people who were interpreters, guides, and drivers who performed countless tasks, without which our military, diplomatic, and redevelopment efforts would have been impossible.
They risked their lives to help and serve Americans. If they had wanted to harm us, they had countless opportunities to lead people down the wrong path -- to attack, assault, mislead -- but, by all accounts, thousands of these people performed critical tasks faithfully, if not flawlessly.
We made an implicit promise to protect them when the American presence was scaled down and they risked their lives to help us. Now, thousands of the translators and guides who remain in Iraq and Afghanistan are threatened on a daily basis by enemies of the United States with very long memories. We need to fulfill our promise to get them out of harm's way.
The State Department and Homeland Security have had serious challenges managing this Special Immigrant Visa program that we fought so hard to establish. Approvals of the visas have come at a trickle, and there is no sign of improvement. Instead, the program could end. The authorization for the Iraqi immigrant visa expires in four days. It could make a difference if members of Congress heard from those interested in justice and honoring our commitments -- from citizens, veterans, and soldiers -- letting them know that the clock is ticking for these brave men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Iraq is a country that is on the verge of collapse. Violence is on the upswing, and these people who bravely served America have been left twisting in the wind. Many have been forced into hiding. Others and their families have not just been threatened; they've been killed.
There is overwhelming bipartisan support, led in the most articulate and forceful way by new members in both parties like Democrat Tulsi Gabbard and Republican Adam Kinzinger, who are themselves veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. This bipartisan group of recent veterans has seen the invaluable service and sacrifice of these people, and feels a deep commitment to their safety.
If the Congress acts now, we can still save this program, but we cannot afford to delay. A shut down of even a few hours, will set back the progress of all the applicants in the system because of the cumbersome, convoluted nature of the program of security checks. People will be forced back to square one for approval with their lives in great peril. It will be to our enduring shame if we can't come together and protect the people we counted on in battle, and who are now counting on us.
This sad story is documented in Kirk Johnson's recent book, To Be a Friend is Fatal: The Fight to Save the Iraqis America Left Behind. The title really says it all. So far we have failed our friends. I hope Congress will rise to the occasion before it's too late.