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Home / Press Release / DHS Reportedly to Allow Iraqis with SIV Visas into United States Despite Ban
January 31, 2017

DHS Reportedly to Allow Iraqis with SIV Visas into United States Despite Ban

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today praised reports that the Department of Homeland Security will provide exemptions to President Trump’s executive order for Iraqis who are eligible for entry using Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs). It is unclear whether the exemption also applies to thousands of Iraqis who worked with the U.S. government and other U.S. entities who have been waiting for resettlement through a priority processing program created for them by Congress.

“Today’s reported announcement is a welcome signal that the United States will take steps to protect some of our allies who are in grave danger for their work with the American government,” said Human Rights First's Scott Cooper, founder of Veterans for American, a group of more than 2,000 veterans of the U.S. armed forces. “But there are thousands of Iraqis who worked with Americans who may still be left stranded in danger. We should not leave them behind. The executive order—effectively a  Muslim ban—is a strategically damaging action by our government that will irreparably harm relations with Middle Eastern countries whose cooperation and alliances we depend on.”  

The executive order, signed by President Trump on Friday, suspended priority resettlement and SIVs for Iraqis who risked their lives to work with the American military, government, or other American entities as translators, engineers, security guards, embassy clerks, logisticians, and cultural advisors. These Iraqis were given access to priority resettlement and SIVs by Congress through a special law enacted to ensure protection of Iraqis at risk due to their ties to the United States. The order could also impact Afghan SIV recipients—interpreters and others who help U.S. forces in Afghanistan—if that country were added to the list. These men and women and their families now face grave threats for working to advance U.S. interests.

The executive order calls for the suspension of visas, immigrant and nonimmigrant entry from some Muslim-majority countries (Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Libya, Iran, Sudan), a suspension of the refugee resettlement program, an indefinite suspension to U.S. resettlement of Syrian refugees, and directs the State Department to prioritize religious minorities for entry into the United States over other vulnerable groups, thus restricting resettlement of Muslim refugees from Muslim-majority countries.

In a letter sent this weekend Veterans for American Ideals urged President Trump to reconsider his executive order. "We are confident that the United States can protect both its security and vulnerable refugees," wrote Cooper. We can and must keep our promises to those whose lives are at risk because they saved ours." 

The world is facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II, with over 60 million people displaced. Over 4.8 million Syrians have fled their country due to conflict and persecution, and 7.6 million are displaced within Syria in need of humanitarian assistance. Human Rights First’s report "The Syrian Refugee Crisis and the Need for U.S. Leadership” details how many of these refugees have been stranded for years in neighboring countries where they cannot work or support their families, have little access to education, and lack the level of humanitarian assistance they need. Frontline states and key U.S. allies including Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan continue to host the majority of the nearly 5 million refugees who have fled Syria, struggling under the strain of hosting so many refugees.

The United States’ refugee vetting procedures are widely recognized as the most stringent in the world by former U.S. military leaders and former U.S. national security officials, who have served both Democratic and Republican administrations. 

For more information or to speak with Cooper, contact Corinne Duffy at [email protected] or 202-370-3319.