WASHINGTON (AP) — A measure to provide relief for Iraqis who risked their lives to help the United States may be advancing in Congress despite the government shutdown.
The special visa has allowed more than 12,000 Iraqi contractors, interpreters and others who aided U.S. efforts, and family members, to move to the United States since 2007. It expired at midnight, with an estimated 2,000 applications still in the bureaucratic process, but the Senate extended it by unanimous consent a half-hour ahead of Monday night's deadline.
The House had called it for its extension in a temporary spending bill and could now take it up separately.
"These brave Iraqis risked their lives to protect Americans and many of them are now living under constant threat of retribution from al-Qaida terrorists and Iranian-backed militants as a result of their decision to help American men and women in uniform," Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said in a joint statement Tuesday. "The United States has a moral obligation to stand with those Iraqis who stood with us. We cannot, and we will not, abandon our Iraqi partners."
The program was created during the worst years of the Iraq war, with Iraqis who helped U.S. forces or reconstruction operations facing targeted killings, death threats and other forms of harassment. The goal was to resettle them in the United States faster than the often protracted general refugee process might allow. More than 90,000 Iraqis have moved to the U.S. as refugees, though the process can take months or years.
The House of Representatives has voted several times previously to reauthorize the special visa, which entails its own set of sometimes complicated requirements for applicants, including paperwork or certificates from the U.S. military, Iraqi police and other bodies.
McCain and Shaheen urged the House to pass legislation and send it to President Barack Obama for his signature as quickly as possible.