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Lawmakers seek fix to extend visa program for Iraqi interpreters


Lawmakers are looking for a last-minute legislative fix to extend a visa program for Iraqis who served as interpreters for the U.S. military during the Iraq War.

The program for Iraqis to receive special immigrant visas to come to the United States is slated to expire on Sept. 30 unless Congress passes a measure to continue it.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and several senior senators are looking for a way to pass a one-year extension amid the legislative fight over funding the government, which is also facing a Sept. 30 deadline.

Shaheen filed an amendment to the Senate’s continuing resolution (CR) to extend the program for a year, but that looked unlikely to be added to the bill, a Senate aide said.

Shaheen and her allies  — Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) — have also filed a stand-alone bill they are now seeking to get approved in the Senate by unanimous consent.

The visa extension was included in the immigration bill that the Senate passed earlier this year, but that effort has stalled in the House.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) had pushed unsuccessfully to include an amendment to extend the Iraqi visa program in the House-passed CR.

A House aide said that House lawmakers are now waiting to see what happens in the Senate.

“The Senate CR is probably the first, best avenue, and other avenues are also being explored in case that doesn’t work out,” the aide said.

Kinzinger said he was confident that it could get passed in the House if the Senate approves it by unanimous consent.

"When you talk to people I don't think anybody would oppose this," he said. "When somebody puts their life on the line for our country, they ought to be repaid."

The lawmakers argue that the visa program, which began in 2007, should be continued because there are still interpreters in Iraq who were told they would get visas for helping the U.S. military.

“We made a promise to thousands of Iraqi civilians who risked their lives helping our country during a time of war and now we must honor our commitment,” Shaheen said in a statement provided to The Hill. “Extending the special immigrant visa program by a year is the right thing to do.”