New York Times (Op-Ed)
By Ernesto Londono
March 1, 2016
The latest blunder in the government’s management of a special visa program for Afghan interpreters was fixed this week.
In recent months, some Afghan interpreters were stunned to learn that their visa applications had been denied as a result of the way officials at the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security were interpreting a change to the eligibility criteria Congress made last year.
Last fall, lawmakers established that as of September 30, in order to qualify for resettlement in the United States, interpreters would need to provide evidence that they had worked for American personnel in Afghanistan for at least two years. In the past, they had to prove only one year of service.
Inexplicably, the government began applying the two-year standard to applicants who had submitted petitions long before the rule changed.
There are two main stages in the process, which often takes years. Applicants must first submit a petition at the embassy in Kabul. Those who get the green light there may then submit a visa application with the Department of Homeland Security. The change could have disqualified hundreds of the more than 10,000 applicants with pending cases.
A Feb. 4 editorial in The Times called the retroactive implementation of the two-year requirement unreasonable and urged Secretary of State John Kerry to undo it.
Citing the editorial, a handful of senators who have championed the program wrote a letter on Feb. 11 to Mr. Kerry and Jeh Johnson, the Secretary of Homeland Security, expressing concern about the change.
“As the authors of that provision, we urge you to reconsider your interpretation as it is wholly inconsistent with Congressional intent and would unfairly and wrongly disqualify hundreds of deserving applicants,” Senators Jeanne Shaheen, Jack Reed and John McCain wrote in the letter.
Testifying before the Senate recently, Mr. Kerry did not defend the retroactive implementation of the rule, which he called “grossly unfair and dangerous.”
He said State Department lawyers were reviewing the matter and that he hoped there would be a prompt resolution to the problem.
On Monday, the State Department notified Congress that the issue had been resolved.
Interpreters who submitted applications with the embassy before Sept. 30 will have to prove that they worked for the American government for one year, not two, the State Department said in an emailed statement. It said officials were reviewing all cases that had been rejected solely as a result of the two-year criterion and would “proactively reach out to these individuals” to get their cases back on track.
Congress has tangled with the bureaucracy numerous times since it passed the Special Immigrant Visa program in 2009.
During the early years of the program, the State Department only approved a smattering of cases. It rejected some applicants by sending them letters saying they posed unspecified security risks. Many applicants waited for years without news about their petitions.
In 2014, Mr. Kerry pledged to fix the problems but found that the State Department was in a bind of its own making: With thousands of cases in the pipeline, it had run out of visas to issue because Congress had created a yearly cap and those set aside for the early years of the program had expired.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com