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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Persecuted Iraqis Get Court Help With Visas

(CN) - A federal judge advanced claims by Iraqis and Afghans demanding U.S. asylum because the help they provided the U.S. military has made them a target.

Twelve Iraqi and Afghan citizens brought the claims to Washington, D.C., last year, saying they assisted the United States at great risk to themselves and their families, during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, by working with the U.S. military as doctors, interpreters and civilian employees.

In addition death threats, some claim they have survived attempts on their lives.

One man received a bullet inside an envelope at his door with a death threat inside, and another was kidnapped and ransomed by militants.

Though each plaintiff has applied for a U.S. visa under the Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant visa programs, their applications have languished in "administrative processing."

Having waited an average of four years and three months for a final answer, the would-be asylees say life in Iraq has only gotten worse with the rise of the Islamic State.

For fear of additional reprisals in their home country, all 12 plaintiffs used pseudonyms in the suit for final judgment on their visa applications.

Citing obvious errors in the government's presentation of the facts, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler permitted the plaintiffs on Thursday to file a supplemental declaration in support of their applications.

"The court finds it very troubling that the government would make important factual misstatements, fail to acknowledge them when they are proven to be incorrect, and then oppose the submission of evidence which corrects the mistake," Kessler said.

Kessler also found that plaintiffs have standing to seek court relief on their applications, the delay of which has allegedly exposed them to serious threats to their life.

"Plaintiffs have been injured by the failure to obtain final decisions on their SIV applications, that injury is caused by the government's failure to act, and the injury would be redressed by an order from this court," the 67-page opinion states. "Accordingly, plaintiffs have made the injury, causation, and redressability showings required to establish standing to pursue their claims."

Some former plaintiffs were denied visas based on terrorism-related concerns, but these refusals do not justify making plaintiffs wait indefinitely for a decision on their applications, the court ruled.

"By consigning applicants to 'administrative processing,' the government endeavored to enjoy the benefits of consular nonreviewability without having to report to Congress that it has denied the SIV applications of many Iraqis and Afghans who supported the United States' military efforts in their countries," Kessler said. "The government cannot have it both ways."

Kessler did, however, block the visa seekers from accusing the U.S. of failing to make reasonable efforts to protect them from harm.

"What efforts are reasonable will depend upon 'complex concerns involving security and diplomacy' far beyond the expertise of the court but squarely within that of the secretary," she said.

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