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Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Iraqi Refugees. . . Hey, Wait a Minute

01.02.2008 07:59 | DISPATCHES

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have fled the carnage and poverty that our intrusion into their affairs has unleashed. They've been admitted to two countries ill-equipped to accommodate them: Jordan and Syria. Meanwhile, the US has kept its borders closed to all but a few token Iraqis.

This past September, though, perhaps in response to the heat it's been taking, the State Department created the position of Senior Coordinator for Iraqi Refugees for one John Foley. The stated intent is to speed up the process of allowing Iraqis to immigrate to the US. But there's a catch -- two actually.

One, vetting each applicant, expected to consist of interviews with a series of US officials, could take between four to six months. So much for speeding up the process.

Presumably, State wants to guarantee that members of murderous militias are culled from the ranks of prospective refugees. But how many exiles-in-waiting will die of violence or disease in the interim?

Two, the program is intended to benefit only those Iraqis who, as a result of working for the US are -- big of State to finally admit this -- in mortal danger. Or in more danger than the average Iraqi, whose life can be had for a song (if the fundamentalists allowed music).

It looks like the Bush administration, which has given new meaning to the word "grudging," is once again doling out crumbs for the sake of appearance. Had Bush joined a support group upon becoming sober he might have internalized one of its most important adages: "Half measures avail us nothing."

Like after Katrina, bona fide relief efforts have been palmed off on the private sector. Once the injustice of that is acknowledged, how can we expedite granting Iraqis refuge?

The time has come to call Americans out on our complacency, which has made us complicit in the invasion of Iraq and its occupation. A Democratic candidate for president must break new ground for boldness and rub the plight of Iraqi citizens in our faces.

The death and forced relocation of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis can no longer be ignored. Already it threatens to become as big a stain on our national soul as slavery and our annihilation of the red man.

Meanwhile, with nearly 4,000 American soldiers dead in a war that's also inhaling cash like a whale shark does krill, it's disingenuous to claim Americans haven't sacrificed. But, most of us have done nothing of our own volition.

The candidate in question must appeal to Americans to finally contribute to, not the war effort, but efforts to heal Iraq from the war. The citizens of every American city or town that enjoys some degree of prosperousness need to provide jobs and lodging for Iraqis.

What? Even those who know Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 are likely to be jittery about admitting people into our communities who, if they weren't before, may now be our sworn enemies.

To quell fears, however unrealistic, that Iraqi emigres might form terrorist cells, limit the number of families to one in each town (or a handful in a large city). To minimize the shock to the system of incorporating a couple hundred thousand new Americans, total participation is critical.

The Iraqis' high visibility will further assuage our fears, thus compensating for shortcomings in the vetting process. Also they'll likely be the subject of local newspaper articles and TV news appearances. As well, they'll be trotted out for all manner of civic occasions.

Of course, Iraqis would prefer to remain in their own country. But it may be ten years before it's fit for either man or beast.

Meanwhile, concerns that calls for an influx of refugees would play into the hard right's hands and supply it with truckloads of ammunition in the war on immigration are legitimate. But, denying asylum to Iraqis who deserve refugee status would leave the right wide open to charges it was emulating its arch-fiend, Franklin Roosevelt, whose administration locked out Jews during World War II.

Are we big enough to hold ourselves accountable for the refugees that we've allowed our government to create? Let's show the world that Americans are once again capable of that generosity of spirit for which, myth or not, we were once famous.

Cross-posted to Huffington Post. 


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