2L Kelsey Campbell traveled to Washington, D.C., along with fellow members of Veterans for American Ideals in early December 2016 to urge Congress and the White House to include the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program in 2017 authorizations.
“I was a part of meetings with the staffs for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Barbara Boxer, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan,” says Kelsey. “We told our stories of service and friendship with the local interpreters. We also explained the negative effects of not providing these interpreters with refuge. The Taliban or ISIS could include in recruitment propaganda that America abandons its partners and does not follow through on its promises.”
The SIV legislation provides an avenue for refugee status that is vital for many former local national employees and their families in Afghanistan. These refugee translators, engineers, security guards, embassy clerks, logisticians, and cultural advisors served with and risked their lives alongside U.S. servicemembers and diplomats and Kelsey wants to help guarantee that the U.S. government does not turn its back on them.
Since 2006, Congress has enacted a series of legislative provisions to enable certain Iraqi and Afghan nationals to become lawful permanent residents or LPRs in the United States. These provisions enable eligible Iraqis and Afghans, who worked as translators or interpreters, to apply for a special category of refugee status. They apply for the program at the U.S. Embassy and provide written statements from former U.S. government employers vouching for their service. Upon admission to the United States, Iraqi and Afghan SIV recipients may receive the same resettlement assistance and federal public benefits as other admitted refugees.
However, since the recent attacks that occurred in Orlando, San Bernardino, and around the world, many politicians have rallied against immigration and the resettlement of refugees in the United States. This has slowed the process for Afghan translators and interpreters to receive the assistance they were promised. According to Kelsey, this puts Afghans who have been identified as working or having worked for the U.S. in great danger. “Once marked by the Taliban or other bad actors, these translators have received death threats and bombs on their doorstep. Some have even been killed while awaiting their visa to be processed.”
Kelsey wants to ensure that these men and women do not have to endure further danger after all they risked to help American troops and the mission in their country. She knows firsthand the critical role in mission effectiveness these refugee interpreters played in assisting U.S. soldiers on the battlefield. “I am a U.S. Air Force veteran [2002-2009] and served in Iraq during the troop surge in 2007 through 2008. I led a small, specialized intelligence team within an Army infantry brigade in East Baghdad. During my deployment, I became friends with a local Iraqi teen named Sura who served as an interpreter.”
“Sura was an invaluable part of the success of our missions. Not only was it incredibly brave for anyone to go on patrols with a foreign military, Sura did so as a young teenage woman still immersed in college life. She taught me the meaning of true bravery and I traveled to Washington to help make sure that those like Sura are provided the necessary protections after their service.”
Soon after Kelsey’s trip to Washington, Congress passed the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (FY 2017 NDAA), which included 1,500 special immigrant visas and renewed the program for Afghans for four years. Human Rights First and other advocacy organizations estimate that approximately13,000 Afghans qualify under the program and are waiting for additional visas to be authorized. Kelsey plans to continue to advocate for these refugees until all are provided adequate protection.
Kelsey’s goal is to reach out to recently-elected Senator and UC Hastings alumna Kamala Harris’s office to communicate the importance of this program, particularly for California, which has become home to a number of Afghan refugees. “This is a moral issue and is deeply tied to America’s founding principles. I believe America should continue to play a leadership role in the global community, and this is only possible if we lead in all areas, including providing refuge for those with a credible fear for their life — especially, for those whose lives are in danger because of their affiliation with the U.S. government.”
With these continued efforts from Kelsey, more eligible individuals, like her friend Sura, can receive a SIV after working with U.S. forces abroad. Sura obtained her SIV after serving with American troops for three years. She is now an American citizen and recently graduated from San Diego State University. “She had to juggle school and multiple jobs, but I never once heard her complain. She is a tireless worker and shines among her peers. She continues to contribute to this country in numerous ways.” Sura volunteers her time assisting Syrian refugees in Southern California, which she has adopted as her new home.
Kelsey is presently a Tony Patiño Fellow at UC Hastings. In May 2016, she was awarded the Stephen Cone Fellowship for Legal Research and Writing and is writing a report on the experience of Afghan refugees in the Bay Area.