- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2003

Call it the mystery of the lost green card.Or call it no room at the inn. About five years ago, I was introduced to some Kurds specifically, two parents and their four college-age daughters, a kind of Muslim Fiddler-on-the-Roof living in northern Virginia.
Over the years, I've watched the (very amicably) arranged marriages of the eldest two daughters and how the father after three long years found a job that matched his civil engineering background in northern Iraq.
Kurds are the much-maligned majority in northern Iraq. In March 1988, Saddam gassed 6,000 of them in Halabja, a village near the Iranian border, giving the world a glimpse of his propensity for chemical warfare.
In December 1996, the U.S. government removed about 6,000 Kurdish creme de la creme people who had worked with various NGOs or with the CIA before they could be massacred by Saddam. This family was among them. They ended up in northern Virginia, which was awash with first-generation immigrants with similar qualifications.
The mother, a school headmistress in Iraq, had the most problems, for what American workplace accepts accreditation from the University of Baghdad? She found some temporary jobs teaching Arabic.
Then came September 11, and the attendant publicity on how short the CIA and FBI were on Arabic-language speakers and translators. Both of these agencies require such workers to be citizens, although there's been talk of loosening that requirement in order to get better translators in a faster manner.
By that point, only one of the daughters had a green card, the prerequisite for citizenship, which is another five-year wait. One congressional office told me the U.S. government had given the Kurds fast track approval for green cards, but someone in the Arlington office of the Immigration and Naturalization Services had misfiled the card applications in the system, adding years to their ordeal.
Unlike some of my better-heeled foreign friends, the Kurds could not afford the $5,000 to pay a lawyer to get a green card. The information numbers which are not toll-free at the card processing centers in Nebraska and Vermont are continually busy.
I called Sen. John Warner's office. Help this family out, I told his aides. Her native tongue is Kurdish. She knows northern Iraq like the back of her hand. The mother even teaches Arabic. One would think such talents might come in handy for the pending war.
Green cards arrived in December 2001 for the other family members, but not for the mother. On advice from Sen. Warner's office, I took her to the INS office in Arlington, a shabby place with rude employees, to track down her card. We were told the INS had sent it to her. She swore she had never gotten it. Too bad, the INS told us. She would have to come up with another $120 to start the process again.
So she did. A year passed. On Oct. 3, I called the main INS number, waited through several voice prompts, then got an operator. What was the name of the form, she asked, that the mother had filed?
"How should I know?" I asked. There couldn't be that many.
Evidently there are. The INSoperator needed the exact name of the form. Well, I had the mother's alien number. "Isn't there," I asked, "a way of figuring this out without the name of the form?" The INS operator hung up on me.
I then called the INS press office in the District. One officer was aghast the mother was made to repay the $120 but was never given a receipt. Another press officer, Ernestine Hobbs, promised to look into it. She called me back a week later to say she would need to speak with the mother. I called back to set up an appointment but she did not respond to repeated calls.
I recontacted Senator Warner's office to ask for help. No response.
In all the rhetoric about immigration, Americans still believe their country has a mandate to take on the persecuted and the maligned. But if we are not going to take on those huddled masses yearning to breathe freely, why don't we just send them back to Saddam's loving embrace?
If one woman who speaks two languages an invading American army will desperately need to know in the coming months cannot be helped despite the efforts of a newspaper reporter and a senator's office, what does that say about other legitimate efforts to secure green cards?
How many other vital Arabic teaching positions are going unfilled, and where else is national security compromised just because our system doesn't work?

Julia Duin is an assistant national editor for The Washington Times. Email: [email protected]

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