WASHINGTON (AP) — A measure to provide special visas for Iraqis who risked their lives to help the United States is one step closer to securing President Barack Obama's signature.
By voice vote late Wednesday, the House passed the measure and sent it to the Senate, which is expected to approve it Thursday.
The special visa has allowed more than 12,000 Iraqi contractors, interpreters and others who aided U.S. efforts, and family members, to move to the United States since 2007. It expired earlier this week, with an estimated 2,000 applications still in the bureaucratic process, but the Senate extended it by unanimous consent a half-hour ahead of Monday night's deadline.
"Years ago we made a promise to Iraqi civilians, and tonight the House helped us honor our commitment to those who risked their lives for our country. We have a moral obligation to stand with Iraqis who stood with us during a time of war and with this bill headed to the president tomorrow we are demonstrating that we will not abandon our Iraqi partners," said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who worked with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on the measure.
The program was created during the worst years of the Iraq war, with Iraqis who helped U.S. forces facing targeted killings, death threats and other forms of harassment. The goal was to resettle them in the United States faster than the often protracted general refugee process might allow. More than 90,000 Iraqis have moved to the U.S. as refugees, though the process can take months or years.
The House has voted several times previously to reauthorize the special visa, which entails its own set of sometimes complicated requirements for applicants, including paperwork or certificates from the U.S. military, Iraqi police and other bodies.