Iraqi special visa program expires

The House had included a one-year extension of the Iraqi visas in the stopgap funding measures that it passed on Saturday and Monday, but those were rejected by the Senate.

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Late Monday evening, with just minutes to go before the government shutdown, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) passed a three-month extension in a standalone bill by unanimous consent.

House GOP leaders have not yet indicated whether they will take up the standalone bill to extend the visas for three months. A spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) did not respond to a request for comment.

The program to give Iraqis who helped the U.S. government Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) began in 2007, authorizing 5,000 visas annually. A similar program for Afghans who helped the U.S. allows for 1,500 visas per year and has already been extended through 2014.

Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) had also tried last week to include a yearlong extension in the Senate’s continuing resolution (CR) as an amendment, but opted to push for a stand-alone bill when it became clear the CR wasn’t a feasible route.

The Senate had also included the visa extension in its immigration bill, which the House has not taken up.

Lawmakers argue that killing the visa program would break a promise made to Iraqis who have risked their lives to help 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 last week.

"When you talk to people I don't think anybody would oppose this," said Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who has pushed the bill in the House. "When somebody puts their life on the line for our country, they ought to be repaid."