Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Access to Federal Benefits for Iraqi Military Interpreters

Congress has finally fixed a poorly drafted law that had barred Iraqi translators who came to the United States on Special Immigrant Visas from receiving the same federal benefits given to refugees and asylees.

Special Immigrant Visas or SIVs were created by Congress in 2007 so that Iraqis whose lives were in danger because they worked for the U.S. military as translators could be quickly evacuated to the United States, bypassing the normal refugee processing. Last year, immigrant advocacy groups discovered that, due to drafting issues in the federal law, many of these SIV holders are legal permanent residents who are now subject to the five-year bar on federal Food Stamp/SNAP benefits, Medicaid, TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), employment services and not eligible for Social Security.

For SIV holders, the current federal law permits only 8 months of the Refugee Resettlement Program (RRP) and all other federal benefits, and then they are treated like all other Legal Permanent residents and required to wait an additional 4 years and 4 months before they can qualify. (Keep in mind that Iraqi nationals who entered with refugee status do NOT have this five year wait and are eligible immediately - and indefinitely - for most federal benefits beyond the 8 month limit on RRP cash benefits.)

On December 19, Congress passed the Defense Appropriations Bill (by an 88-10 vote) that eliminates this 5-year wait for both Iraqi and Afghan SIV allies. Specifically, it makes Iraqi and Afghan SIVs eligible for federal public benefits "to the same extent, and for the same periods of time, as refugees." (pdf p.119)

The List Project, other advocacy groups, and thousands of Iraqis are celebrating the end of this disparity.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Principle Pictures Teams up with WCVB's Chronicle Series

We've formed a new venture with WCVB’s award-winning Chronicle program. Throughout the year, you can stay up-to-date on our films and projects as Chronicle features our work and producers. The first joint Principle Pictures/Chronicle program is tonight at 7:30 on Channel 5. I will be on set for an interview as Chronicle highlights two Principle Pictures’ projects: BEYOND BELIEF and WHAT TOMORROW BRINGS, our newest Afghanistan film. If you’re outside New England or miss the broadcast, you can check it out online.

Mind Over Martyr

In Mind Over Martyr, a new article in Foreign Affairs, Jessica Stern takes a look at what works - and what doesn't - to deradicalize terrorists.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Iraq's Bob Dylan

If you're following the candidates for Iraq's upcoming parliamentary elections, one candidate in particular is worth a close look: Nabeel Yasin. Known as "the poet of Iraq," Yasin was a defiant symbol of resistance to Saddam Hussein. His most famous poem, "The Brothers Yasin, Once Again," (see poem below) was secretly distributed by one of Baghdad's most reputable tailor shops - sewn into the lining of clothes or hidden in pockets. A new BBC film by Georgie Weedon captures Yasin's honesty, humor and humanity. This poem is a tear-jerker in English, I only wish I could read it in Arabic.

The Brothers Yasin, Once Again

Once again
On the road to the family

On the road that crosses the barbarian world to the family
Dumbfounded people waiting for a long, long departure to the family
And me, I stand in life’s deserts preparing my song to cross this evening
I gather my questions in my hands
Ready to understand the land
And the road becomes longer and my steps to the family shorter

O family
My angels did not return from their feasts
And me, I am getting ready for my last slumber on linens of dew and a bed of tears.

Like those voyagers who calmly craft their hymns
I will craft my hymns
And welcome tomorrow alone
I will make my wisdom a morning coffee
And with my middle age facial expressions
I will make light for my home
And go slowly to my cave
I will aim for my freedom in solitude
And turn over my past to search for an herb under the stones
The stones that are found on the road to the family
The road to the family is gloomy and its outlines are made of dust and mud

Its outlines seem to move from one sand dune to another, battered by wind
Wind on the road to the family
And the road to the family is a mystery of a distant light
And secrets of a sobbing woman
Years are frozen to stone
Like the pillars of a bridge – the bridges of Al Rusafa and Al Karkh – they are frozen in time.

And Baghdad is the last of places
God, at the apocalypse, where the dead will rise up and the noise becomes deafening
And me, I am the last of the wise men, miserable wise men, in a time where wise men are despised
And me, I am the last to grab smouldering embers before being consumed by fire

I am the last pillar
On which people lean
Silent as they are
On their way to the family
On the road to a woman, bent and curved like mirrors
On the road to a house that has been shattered with yearning

On the road is a man, exhausted and burdened by commandments
To those who suffer from the estrangement of their souls
Or the moaning of the heart in times of togetherness

On the road to my homeland
I saw mirrors
With dust on them
I saw stars dispersed in sand
On the way to Yasin’s tomb
I was stopped by frozen time on the riverbanks
Time is short
And me, I am ageing in my solitude
And my soul is growing older
On the road to my homeland
I saw mirrors
With dust on them
I saw stars dispersed in sand
On the way to Yasin’s tomb
I was stopped by frozen time on the riverbanks
Time is short
And me, I am ageing in my solitude
And, faced with my dilemma, my soul grows older

Me and my road to the family
Both are lonely
Both ended on his loneliness
And we both were united, the road,
Reaching the end, with my steps
And the road to the family
Is my road
The last song in my mouth
And the last grass will be stolen from my garments by a snake.

What can I give O Yasin?
As I do not have my freedom
Enslaved to the bones by an infidel Iraq
I feed him solace and comfort
In return he gives me shit and zaknabout

And the road continues from Eridu to Karbala
From Karbala to my desolate soul
As I stood in the alleyways of Babylon engraving on the stones of houses
The foreboding of a child
The estrangements of an old man from the family

And the road to the family is wide and prodigious
My road to the family
On both sides of which stood pondering angels
The candles of eternity of my road to the family
On both sides of which stood pondering angels
The candles of eternity and creation
Lit both sides
Dead steps and those who were killed can be seen looming
And on both sides caves’ paintings emerge
Along with my blood and my vows.
My soul’s foreboding
My God’s
And my eternal flood, my Noah’s Arc.

As I stood on my way to the family
Seeing the reflection on the water of the Euphrates
The eyes of those who drowned
They glistened like stars
And on top of palm trees dead stars
Shedding ash on the river’s embankment
And standing still I draw aeroplanes on the bodies of the dead
I take their eyes down to serve as shelters
To be shut down in the morning by butterflies which also strip drops of dew from a flower

O Nada, O Nada,
Every time I protect myself against the arrows of ruin
In the shelters of my soul
The echo passes
And in passing it tells me
That my soul is wandering aimlessly
That my ardent love was in vain

As I stand still on my way to the family
I see on the river Tigris
Between Al Amarah and Al Kut ships sails
And angels flying on water
And I see the angels carrying coffins lit by candles
I stand and my angels are stunned
They are wearing gasmasks
And when they ask me about my misdeeds
And write down what I have done
They go in search of God
Asking him to take a look at this country
And bless it with his peace

Yasin, then, knew what would happen
He then bid us farewell under the rain
He did not hear the cock that Thursday
And before he took leave of us he said ‘wait for what will happen’
But his sons fragmented into pieces.

Then he asked after them
As they were in the wilderness of their souls
As if they were the offspring of Gods left behind after Armageddon
To reshape creation in a second image
And prepare creation for another departure
On the road to the family
An event after an event.
Anguish after an anguish
War after war
As if the road of anguish is the road to Golgotha
That is then the road to the family
And Yasin is no more than an echo

He sometimes appears after the massacres take place
So much so that I saw Ilham by his tomb crying, ‘what have you done?’
Have you not any wisdom?
Or certain country to live in?
Have you not been on the road to the family?
Watching for symbols and signs that will show you the way?
Have you not?
And then I shouted
No, we have not.

On the road to the family
I walked all alone
Followed by my victims in a funeral and a song
And the long road to the family gets longer,
From Eredu to Babylon
Then the road turns to where there are shattered hearts.
This road, this prodigious and long road
On his sides there are trenches, and eternal corpses
Kites pick on the eyes of the dead
And bite dry flesh
Wind whistles inside helmets made of sand
Wind pushing through torn garments
And letters
This is the road drawn by the homeland, for her and for us.

When Seen dropped her here
Here in between the water of the Gulf and a chain of mountains
And the road to the family became longer than ever and more terrifying.