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.

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