Correction to This Article
This article incorrectly conflated two distinct provisions in the fiscal 2008 Defense Authorization bill concerning Iraqis who seek to come to the United States. One, a special visa program, would permit 5,000 Iraqis who had worked for the United States or U.S. contractors for at least one year to apply to enter this country; a second provision would allow Iraqis who worked for U.S. media or U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations and who feel threatened in Iraq to apply directly to U.S. embassies as part of the normal refugee-assistance program.

U.S. Program Accepted 1,324 Iraqi Refugees in Past Four Months

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Bush administration officials said yesterday that 1,324 Iraqi refugees entered the United States from October through January, as part of a U.S. program aimed at bringing in 12,000 by Sept. 30.

Ambassador James B. Foley, the State Department's senior coordinator of Iraqi refugee issues, told reporters yesterday that he still hopes the goal for the 2008 fiscal year will be met, but he acknowledged it is "not guaranteed." Since the program was launched in mid-2007, more than 3,000 Iraqi refugees have been admitted to the United States, with 375 arriving last month.

Most of the estimated 2.2 million Iraqi refugees -- who have fled primarily to Syria and Jordan -- want to return home and are becoming a "looming problem" financially for the region, Foley said. Meanwhile, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has identified only about 17,000 as eligible for admission to the United States based on dangers they would face upon returning to Iraq.

Of those, about 7,700 Iraqis have completed the complex interview process required by the United States; the remaining 9,300 are considered "in the pipeline," said Lori Scialabba, senior adviser for Iraqi refugee affairs at the Department of Homeland Security, which also plays a key role in the process through its Citizenship and Immigration Services.

About 13 percent of refugees interviewed have been denied entry because of security, medical or other reasons, Scialabba said. Another 17 percent are "on hold" while their information is under review. Two-thirds of those interviewed have been approved for entry, though Foley added that more than 100 opted not to come here.

The United States has also developed programs for Iraqis and Afghanis who have worked for the U.S. government and U.S.-based organizations.

One congressionally mandated initiative that was begun in 2006 called for admitting 50 Iraqis or Afghanis each year who had served as translators or interpreters for U.S. forces and felt threatened because of that service. In 2007, the effort grew to 500 interpreters, as well as their families, and the quota was filled last year, officials said.

Since the beginning of the 2008 fiscal year in October 2007, 115 former interpreters, along with their family members, have arrived in the United States, and the remaining 385 are under review, the officials said. One impediment has been that those wanting to participate must have their interviews outside Iraq, mainly in Jordan, and must pay their own way to get there.

Foley said the State Department has begun discussing how to implement a congressionally directed program contained in the fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill, which President Bush signed last week. It would allow up to 5,000 Iraqis to enter the United States each year if they worked for at least 12 months for U.S. government agencies or contractors, U.S. media, or U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations, and felt threatened in Iraq as a result.

This measure, authored primarily by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), would also permit interviews to take place in Iraq, a situation that Foley said creates potential security problems. Often, those seeking to leave Iraq do not want it known, and interviews must be conducted in secure areas. Foley said about 100 Iraqis employed by the U.S. Embassy have already been interviewed.

Foley said there are no current estimates of how many Iraqis are working for, or have worked for, the United States since the war began in March 2003, but another provision of the defense authorization bill requires that the figure be determined.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company