Visa promises are evaded

As prized targets of Taliban violence, Afghan interpreters face a tangled web of bureaucracy when applying for potentially life-saving United States visas.

The New York Times reported that only 12 percent of the 7,500 special visas the Department of State has set aside for Afghan interpreters employed by the U.S. government have been issued, with possibly thousands backlogged.

The wait can last years Ñ years spent wondering when a Taliban rocket might find its way into the side of your car, or a gunman might cross your path.

With family and friends at risk, these men and women turn to the U.S. embassy only to be stonewalled.

On the Department of State website, a video titled ÒLetÕs talk numbersÓ boasts of the ways in which the department Òis meeting the growing demand for visas.Ó

In the video, a narrator walks viewers through the significance of a series of floating numbers: 100-plus new staffers in China and Brazil, 220 visa-issuing consulates, 7 day wait for interviews, etc.

The number 7,500 is conspicuously absent. And for a promotional video, that makes sense.

The DepartmentÕs performance in Afghanistan has been woefully inadequate and if I were them, I would try to hide that fact as well.

The Times story painted a compelling picture of Afghans who had their paperwork lost, were interviewed with no follow-up and have had their inquiries met with automated responses.

Afghan civilians did not take jobs with the U.S. government simply looking for financial security; they were banking on actual security as well.

We owe it to them to do all in our power to keep them safe. For many, that entails a new home in the United States.

The visa program, dubiously named ÒAfghan Allies,Ó is set to expire during 2013.

Members of congress have begun calling for an extension of the program, which is good. But simply continuing the status quo isnÕt enough.

We must do more. LetÕs grow the staff at Afghan consulates, increase the available interview windows in order to see as many people as possible and establish deadlines for decisions after interviews.

And no more automated replies.

When your life lies in the balance, silence is an unacceptable response to a visa application. Keeping someone in the loop is the least we can do.

An open dialogue combined with a renewed focus on serving those who have selflessly served us will ease anxieties Ñ and save lives.