Don't Have To Live Like A Refugee

by digby

A couple of weeks ago Hilzoy wrote a compelling guest post over on the Daily Dish about the Iraqi refugee problem, which is reaching truly catastrophic proportions. She quoted an ABC report which said:

"Since 2003, when the United States toppled Saddam Hussein's regime, only about 1,300 Iraqi refugees have been resettled in the United States. Most of those admitted actually applied for resettlement before the 2003 war began. Only in recent months have refugees who fled after the fall of Saddam been able to arrive in the United States."

Hilzoy added:

Here's a handy chart. I feel so proud thinking that we have made it all the way to number 15 on this list, and have taken in a little over half as many refugees as Denmark, especially given the differences in the size of our respective populations.

A dialog is developing about this situation and I fear it is going to end very badly. The racist fear-mongering about "the terrists" is going to make the border immigration debate look like a tea party. They simply will not be able to unravel the conscious conflation of terrorism and Iraq without making the neanderthal right wingers' heads explode. There are going to be many deaths of the people most friendly and helpful to the Americans as a result of Bush's short-sighted manipulation of the racist American id.

Newsweek has a perfectly awful story this week about a pair of translators who were killed for their ties to Americans:

On the morning of May 21, they took a particularly dangerous route. A friend who had left the country had asked them to withdraw some money from his account at a bank in the notoriously unstable neighborhood of Amariyah. He said they should make the stop only if they happened to be in the neighborhood on other business, but they worried he might be low on cash. U.S. officials say the two had left the bank and were driving out of the area when a gang stopped their car. The men grabbed Hanna and let Meskoni go. A few minutes later, the men called Meskoni on her husband's mobile phone and brazenly told her to come back. When she did, they grabbed her purse and sent her away again. The purse held the couple's embassy IDs.

Meskoni spent the next week haggling with the kidnappers by phone. At first they demanded a $250,000 ransom, but she talked them down to $30,000. She finalized her will and asked friends to pray for her and Hanna, but she never told her children what had happened. The day after the kidnapping she e-mailed her son: "Hi, How are you and how is the new flat? We are okay here and remembering the good days that we spent together last year. We pray to God to meet again soon. Everything is fine here. Take care and talk soon." The Americans reminded her that U.S. policy forbids ransom payments. Friends urged her to avoid the embassy and to deal with the kidnappers through a local cleric instead. "The Americans are behind me," she said. Her son says the kidnappers finally told her to come alone with the cash to a spot near the 14th of July Bridge, just across the river from the Green Zone, at 10 a.m. sharp. "If you come at 10:30, he will be killed," the voice warned. Meskoni was not seen again.

About a month later, police found their two bodies and took them to the morgue. They apparently were killed the day after Meskoni disappeared. U.S. officials say no U.S. government employees or contractors had anything to do with the ransom payment. There are unconfirmed accounts that an Iraqi guard was killed and another was wounded trying to protect Meskoni from the kidnappers. Her son is convinced she would have faced the kidnappers with or without armed backup. "At a certain point she decided, 'To hell with it. I am going down the grave with him'," the son says. "She was determined." What mattered most, she told a friend in one of her last phone calls, was that she had gotten all three of her children out of Iraq: "No one can say I didn't do that."

In one respect, Hanna and Meskoni had been better off than most of the estimated 100,000 Iraqis who have worked for the American military, contractors and civilian companies: embassy staffers had the chance to apply for U.S. residency. Although Jordan has taken as many as 750,000 Iraqis and Syria some 1.4 million, the United States will have approved only about 1,700 asylum requests by the end of September, according to a Homeland Security estimate. In late February the State Department notified its Mideast embassies of a program to give priority visas to Iraqis who had worked for the Americans and passed screening by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, but few U.S. officials in the region were made aware of the program. The UNHCR approval process alone takes up to nine months; countries like Sweden are able to process Iraqi asylum seekers in two weeks. U.S. officials say they need to make sure no terrorists sneak in disguised as refugees. But Iraqis have to pass security checks before the U.S. government hires them, and then they are subject to regular polygraph tests. Embassy translators seemed stunned to hear last week that the idea of letting them into the United States more quickly was at all controversial. Critics believe the White House doesn't want to send the wrong signal by freely admitting that Iraqis are no longer safe in their own homes.

That's part of it. But the fact is that the Freeper crowd will go postal at the idea of letting a bunch of Iraqis in this country, even people like this. They will never trust them and many will assume that they are the infiltrators and sleeper cells that the authorities have been insisting were here all along, no matter what the state department stipulates. Certainly, the wingnuts will never allow more than a very, very small handful to immigrate.

And yet, we owe these people more than we can ever repay. And when we pull out they will likely all be killed. It's an absolutely horrifying situation.

I don't know how to clear out all the destruction these awful people have created, but this one seems like one of the most difficult messes to fix. You have the Ann Coulters and the Peggy Noonans of the world on record saying that it would be irresponsible not to speculate about the potential terrorist sympathies of swarthy men and suspicious diner customers. It's going to be almost impossible to erase the impression among the mass of stupid wingnuts that Iraqi immigrants are terrorists. After all, that's pretty much what Bush has been saying non-stop for years now.

I would like to see the Democrats lobbying hard to allow these refugees into the country. It's the right thing to do and it puts them on record as wanting to help these people. If the worst happens, and I dearly hope it doesn't, there should be no question about who is responsible.