Is U.S. obliged to accept Iraqi refugees?
Imagine this: A foreign power invades your country, and when it becomes unsafe for you to continue living in your home, that foreign power closes its doors, denying you a visa to escape the violence.
That is what is happening to roughly 1.5 million Iraqis who have been forced from their homes as a result of sectarian violence. Hundreds of thousands more have trekked across the border to Syria and Jordan. So why aren't they coming to the United States?
The figures vary from year-to-year, but in last year, the United States budgeted enough to accept 54,000 refugees. Still, it only accepted 202 Iraqi refugees last year. Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, fewer than 500 Iraqis have been granted visas into the United States.
One of the lucky refugees is a woman we'll call "Sarah." She asked us not to use her real name to protect her family. Now living in Morristown, New Jersey, "Sarah" told me her family was targeted by insurgents because she greeted U.S. troops with flowers when they arrived and is thrilled Saddam Hussein is gone.
The moment she knew she had to leave occurred during her commute to work one morning.
"In the middle of the road we started to notice a car following us. It was following us for a long time," she said. "We noted that there are three men in the car, they were carrying guns, they were aiming the guns at us and they started shooting. We were terrified. We started shouting. It was so scary."
It took six months for her to get a visa for the United States. Still, the rest of her family never even got one. Her parents are now bouncing between her brother in England and her sister in Scotland. Another sister living in Canada just had a baby which "Sarah" isn't even able to see, because her paperwork doesn't allow her to visit Canada.
Looking back, she says she wishes the invasion never happened, because she can't go back to Iraq.
Many of the refugees seeking asylum in the United States are translators who have supported the U.S. war effort. One testified recently on Capitol Hill about the growing danger. He too did not want to be identified, but said this: "The killings were gruesome. Iraqi citizens, including translators, have been shot in the head or beheaded, but only after terrorists forced these people to 'confess' that they were spies and agents of the United States."
The White House has taken heat for not doing more. "Our invasion of Iraq led to this crisis, and we have a clear responsibility to do more to ease it," said Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA).
Yesterday, the U.S. State Department announced it will spend an additional $18 million to help settle Iraqi refugees worldwide and that the United States plans to accept as many as 7,000 Iraqi refugees this year.
But is that too little too late? What is the United States' moral obligation to these people?