Bad judgment at Immigration Services
It's hard to imagine a refugee from Iraq more deserving of residence in the United States than Saman Kareem Ahmad. The 38-year-old Kurd lost his family during Saddam Hussein's genocidal chemical attack against his home town of Halabja in 1988; for the last several years, his de facto family has been the U.S. Marine Corps, for which he bravely served as a translator in Fallujah. Driven out of Iraq by death threats in 2006, he was admitted to the United States under a special visa program for translators and granted asylum. He now provides instruction for Marines headed to Iraq from the base in Quantico, Va.
Yet, as recounted by The Post's Karen DeYoung last Sunday, Ahmad's application for permanent residence in the United States was denied last month by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The pretext was patently absurd: Ahmad had once served in the militia of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), which USCIS officials deemed an "undesignated terrorist organization" because it had fought against the Iraqi government — the government, that is, of Saddam Hussein. Left out of the USCIS calculations were the facts that the KDP is one of the few unambiguously pro-American forces in Iraq; that the group does not appear on any U.S. government list of terrorists; and that the KDP's military activities against Saddam were encouraged and materially supported by the United States.
The deputy director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Jonathan "Jock" Scharfen, acknowledges that his agency's decision "does not appear to make much common sense." Until recently, language in the Immigration and Nationality Act virtually compelled a finding that the KDP and similarly pro-American organizations were "terrorists"; legislation allowing such groups to be cleared was passed in December, but a review of the KDP has not been completed. In the meantime, Scharfen said, Ahmad's case is "on hold." But the homeland security secretary is empowered to grant waivers to individuals; Secretary Michael Chertoff should act immediately in this instance.
The larger story here concerns the Bush administration's shoddy treatment of Iraqis who have put their lives on the line to support U.S. forces during the last five years. Only 50 visas per year for Iraqi and Afghan translators were allocated beginning in 2006; the number was increased to 500 for this fiscal year, but will revert to 50 in 2009, even though 648 translators had applications pending as of December.
Not every Iraqi who has helped the United States needs to be admitted to this country or be granted a green card. But cases such as that of Saman Kareem Ahmad shame this country.