Unfortunately, this story is getting depressingly repetitive — and it does not speak well of the U.S. government.
Interpreter Janis Shinwari’s application for well-earned safety in the United States has been caught up in State Department red tape since 2011. Meanwhile, according to supporters, his name has been added to a Taliban kill list for the day U.S. forces depart and can no longer protect him.
The next step in this frustrating and totally unnecessary process is that the interpreter’s sponsor, almost inevitably the officer he served with, begins a campaign of petitioning the State Department to speed up the visa, lobbying Congress to make sure that State does, starting online petition drives and drumming up attention in the media.
Followers of this space know that we have argued strongly in favor of speedy sanctuary for the thousands of Afghan and Iraqi interpreters likely to be left behind.
First, bringing them to the United States fulfills an implicit promise made when pro-U.S. Afghanis signed on to help us: We would not abandon them. Second, it creates a reservoir of expertise on Afghanistan and familiarity with the U.S. military that was glaringly absent when, having chased out al-Qaida in 2001-02, we decided to stay and remake the country. It would be nice to think that we will be totally finished with Afghanistan after the 2014 withdrawal date, but that may be unduly optimistic. We may need these interpreters again, this time in U.S. uniforms.
Shinwari’s chief advocate is Army veteran Matt Zeller of Fairfax, Va., a winner of the Purple Heart, who says his interpreter saved his life: “I consider Janis a lifelong friend and a combat brother. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be here.”
The special immigrant visa program that supposedly expedites the entry into this country of thousands of Iraqis who risked their lives in our service will expire Sept. 30; a similar one to aid Afghans will sunset a year from then. Surely Congress, coming off a five-week recess, can find the time to extend them. While the lawmakers are at it, they should light a fire under the State Department office in charge of these visas.