Last night “60 Minutes” aired a moving piece on the plight of the 100,000 Iraqis whose work for the United States now threatens their lives. Many are hiding in Jordan, burning through their meager savings—they’re not permitted to work—while they beg the U.S. for visas. When the CBS correspondent met Hayder, a translator for the 82nd Airborne who lost a leg while pulling an American to safety, the Iraqi was preparing for his ninth interview in three years. If he returns to Iraq with his wife and young son, “I’ll be a hundred percent killed,” he said. But he couldn’t stay in Jordan any longer.
Hayder was on Kirk Johnson’s list, along with some 1,000 others. Johnson got involved when he was working in Iraq for USAID and one of his Iraqi colleagues was branded a collaborator. He recalled:
Within 24 hours, he found a severed dog’s head on his front steps with a note pinned to it saying his head would be next. He took that note to our employer, to USAID, the United States government, and said, ‘I need your help. I’m going to get killed if I don’t find some sort of safe house or some kind of protection. Because they know now that I work for you all.’ And USAID basically told him, ‘That’s really unfortunate. Good luck with things. If you’re not back in one month, we’re going to give your job away to somebody else.’
Johnson found the man a lawyer, lobbied the State Department, and got him into the U.S. He’s now living with the young American’s parents near Chicago.
Johnson told of another Iraqi co-worker at USAID: “He reached into his pocket to pay for a haircut, and he dropped his badge, and that’s what got him killed. … They killed him on Valentine’s Day last year.”
So far the U.S. has admitted 5,000 Iraqis. The process is slowed somewhat by security concerns but more by the political implications of admitting that Iraq is uninhabitable for anyone who sympathized with us. Johnson arranges free legal advice and helps the refugees navigate our bureaucracy, but so far he’s been able to save just 86. His cellphone rings incessantly. His email is full of desperate pleas: “The most common subject line is simply ‘help.’”
When we asked for help, these people answered. They’re among Iraq’s brightest—bilingual professionals who were willing to make common cause with the West. But now America has no use for them.
There should be a national debate about immigration reform, but dealing with the millions living here illegally is an issue for another day. These aren’t border crossers looking for bigger paychecks but refugees fleeing for their lives. They would probably prefer to return to their own homes and culture, but those don’t exist anymore. We liberated them.