Although the program was established by law in January, it has become a practical reality just in the last two to three weeks as guidelines have been finalized and the embassy has brought in staff members and started processing applications.
The decision is the latest step in the administration’s attempt to answer sharp criticism over its failure to help even those Iraqis who have made the American presence in Iraq possible by serving as translators and supervisors on embassy projects, for the American military and for the USAID. But critics in the refugee relief community noted that the State Department had promised several times that it would try to speed up the process, and that it had not come through.
State Department officials attribute the gap between words and deeds to a cumbersome refugee resettlement system that includes fingerprinting, job checks, name checks and interviews.
The program will allow 5,000 Iraqis to go to the United States for each of the next five years. Each person can take immediate family members, who include spouses and children. More distant relatives, including siblings, parents and grandchildren, can apply under another program. So the actual numbers emigrating will probably be considerably higher. The average Iraqi household is estimated to have about six people, according to officials from the International Organization for Migration.
However, because the US has a quota system for refugees, not all of those deserving in Iraq, let alone other places around the world will be able to be granted asylum.