Bill introduced to give special immigrant visas to Kurds who helped US in Syria

Bill introduced to give special immigrant visas to Kurds who helped US in Syria
© Greg Nash

A Democratic congressman, with support from a bipartisan group of co-sponsors, has introduced a bill to provide special immigrant visas to Syrian Kurds who partnered with the United States in the fight against ISIS.

The bill from Rep. Jason CrowJason CrowWhite House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team Schiff huddles in Capitol with impeachment managers Sunday shows - All eyes on Senate impeachment trial MORE (D-Colo.) comes as Syrian Kurdish forces face an incursion from Turkey, which started after President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial Collins breaks with GOP on attempt to change impeachment rules resolution Roberts admonishes House managers, Trump lawyers after heated exchange MORE decided to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria early this month.

“There’s a lot of severe consequences of the president’s decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria, and one of the worst is the immediate impact on our partners, allies, people who fought alongside us, who made great sacrifice to help us in our mission against ISIS,” Crow, an Army Ranger veteran, said in an interview with The Hill.

“And also consequently, our credibility," Crow said. "American credibility is a big part of why we have partners and allies and people that decide to fight alongside us and help us.”

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The bill would give special immigrant status to Kurds and other Syrians who partnered with the U.S. government in Syria, as well as their spouses and children. It would authorize 4,000 special immigrant visas for qualifying Syrians per year.

Similar special immigrant visa programs already exist for Iraqis and Afghans who assist U.S. troops in those countries.

Trump announced at the beginning of the month he would withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, leading to the Turkish offensive against the Kurds that the United Nations says has displaced at least 180,000 people so far.

A cease-fire brokered by Vice President Pence is in place as the Kurds evacuate, though reports of Turkish violations and clashes with the Kurds have persisted.

The backlash in Congress to Trump’s decision was swift and bipartisan. The House has passed both a resolution opposing Trump’s withdrawal and a bill that would impose sanctions on Turkey.

Lawmakers criticized the withdrawal as abandoning the Kurds, who were instrumental in the fight against ISIS, to be slaughtered by the Turks.

While the resolution and sanctions bill passed overwhelmingly in the House, efforts to get something to Trump’s desk have stalled in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial Collins breaks with GOP on attempt to change impeachment rules resolution Roberts admonishes House managers, Trump lawyers after heated exchange MORE (R-Ky.) has warned against rushing to sanction a NATO ally. He also introduced his own resolution warning that a “precipitous withdrawal” would “create vacuums.”

Crow said he is hoping his bill provides Congress with an opportunity to express support for the Kurds in “a really concrete way.”

“You saw three weeks ago, when the president made the decision to withdraw troops, a very swift, very strong bipartisan condemnation of that decision, largely for the reasons that I just talked about,” Crow said. “People know that American credibility was being tarnished, that our standing in the world and with our partners was at risk.”

Asked about the potential for opposition to his visa bill from immigration hardliners, Crow said there “could be” some, but argued the bill would “honor people that risked their lives and the lives of their families to actually help the United States of America.”

Crow said he has a meeting planned Wednesday with representatives from the Kurdistan Regional Government, the autonomous Kurdish government in Iraq, where he expects to discuss the bill.

He also said he has been in discussions with House leadership and committee leaders to move the bill forward.

The lead co-sponsor is Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) Other co-sponsors are Reps. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonOvernight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers Congress reacts to US assassination of Iranian general Key moments in the 2020 Democratic presidential race so far MORE (D-Mass.), Don Bacon (R-Neb.), Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinLawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown Hillicon Valley: DHS warns of Iranian cyber threats | YouTube updates child content policy | California privacy law takes effect | Tech, cyber issues to watch in 2020 Lawmakers close to finalizing federal strategy to defend against cyberattacks MORE (D-R.I.) and Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerLobbying world Hillicon Valley: Progressives oppose funding bill over surveillance authority | Senators call for 5G security coordinator | Facebook gets questions over location tracking | Louisiana hit by ransomware attack Progressives oppose spending stopgap measure over surveillance authority extension MORE (D-Ore.).

“The Syrian Kurds have stood side by side with the United States in the fight against ISIS,” Waltz said in a statement. “As a special forces officer, working with allies and fostering those relationships was critical to mission success. Our Kurdish allies put their lives and the lives of their families on the line, risking retaliation, to help us fight terrorism. They deserve our country’s gratitude.”