The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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July 8, 2013

U.S. should help Iraqis who helped during war

Why it matters: Those who aided the U.S. in the war in Iraq need help getting to safety.

Buried in the talk about immigration reform is an issue that was has nothing to do with patrolling borders, granting exemptions for those doing domestic jobs or giving higher education breaks to immigrant children.

Iraqis who helped the United States during war in their home country are at great risk. And although some Iraqis obtained visas to escape, there are reportedly still tens of thousands of Iraqis whose lives are threatened as they are trapped in a land now hostile to them as radical militias view them as traitors.

A number of other countries airlifted Iraqis who worked for them out of the country when troops left. Britain, Australia, Denmark are among those that safely removed Iraqis.

Nowhere is the urgency of resolving this problem more apparent than examining the case of “Omar,” a former Iraqi forklift operator who worked for U.S. contractors. As an advocate for the Iraqi people dangerously left behind, author Kirk Johnson has researched the email trail left by Omar. A year’s worth of correspondence between Omar and U.S. immigration offices overseen by the State Department offer evidence of the futile attempts he made to escape Iraq.

Over and over he was told to supply employment information, and he complied. And then he was told to supply the information again. And again. All of this despite his pleas of urgency because of threats being made on his life.

Seven weeks went by after Omar submitted another employment verification letter — this one written on official stationery by a U.S. contractor who supplied glowing reviews of Omar and offered his cellphone number and email address as additional contact information. And then, still waiting, Omar was decapitated in Iraq.

Johnson, interviewed on “This American Life,” is frustrated that Omar and thousands of others like him haven’t been helped — especially because tools are in place to do so. He cited the Guam Option that has been used before in which the president issues an executive order to fly threatened visa applicants to a U.S. base to thoroughly screen them, but keep them safe.

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