Thursday, August 30, 2007

Left Behind?

Remember Ellen Sauerbrey?

Former minority leader of the Maryland House of Delegates, two-time unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor, former U.S. Representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, and now Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration.

Sauerbrey was on CBS News’ “60 Minutes” last Sunday, explaining why the United States government has admitted so few Iraqis to America, even though the Iraqis are translators who assisted the U.S. military, and whose lives — and those of their families — have been threatened by insurgents who accuse them of “collaborating” with the enemy.

According to “60 Minutes” correspondent Scott Pelley, there are about 100,000 Iraqis who have worked for America. Add their families and the number climbs to perhaps half a million people at risk. And how many have been admitted so far? “About 100,” Pelley said.

Although the State Department has said it would consider 7,000 applications, and admit some 2,000 to 3,000 people this year, there has been very little progress, according to Pelley.

Sauerbrey, who is in charge of the State Department’s refugee program, said the problem is the “very thorough security checks” that the U.S. put in place after Sept. 11, 2001. “ … It takes a lot of time to work people through the security process,” she said.

But the translators have already been vetted by the U.S. armed forces. They’ve worked with Americans in very sensitive positions, and they were trusted. Now they feel “left behind.”

“60 Minutes” also reported that. according to Julia Taft, a former assistant secretary of state who headed the program that saw the admittance of Vietnamese refugees into this country after the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam, there were 131,000 people admitted to the United States over an eight-month period in 1975.

“President [Gerald R.] Ford said, ‘Let them come. Let’s help them. This is what we must do for them. They deserve it,’” Taft recalled. And communities all over the United States accepted the refugees.

“It was a huge enterprise. But it never would have worked had there not been the sustained commitment on the part of the administration working with Congress to make it happen,” Taft said.

Where is the determination on the part of the Bush administration and Congress to help people who have helped us?

Asked if she’s not seeing the kind of political will and leadership in this case that she dealt with in 1975, Taft, a lifelong Republican, replied, “I’m afraid that’s the case.”

-PAUL SAMUEL, Associate Editor

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