President Trump has displayed a passion about winning freedom for Americans unjustly imprisoned in distant places such as North Korea, Egypt and Turkey. In that spirit, we recommend that Trump pay attention to another group that should not be left behind: thousands of Iraqis who served alongside Americans in war.

Congress approved special immigrant visas for translators and others who worked directly with U.S. troops in Iraq. That program expired in 2014, but a related program is still on the books for a broader set of Iraqis who worked closely with the U.S. government and believe they or their families are at risk. The Direct Access Program allows eligible Iraqis to apply for refugee status in the U.S. with their families. The program didn’t guarantee admission, but it at least offered hope to those who risked their lives during the war.

Now the program is a mess. According to a Reuters account, as of the end of July there were about 100,000 Iraqis who had applied and are at various stages of the process. But as of Aug. 15, only 48 Iraqis had been admitted under the program to the U.S. this fiscal year. Over 3,000 came last year, and about 5,100 in 2016.

Reuters reports that the Pentagon has complained of the impact of the backlog on operations in Iraq and other war zones. And it should: Who will help the United States in the next war if it leaves its friends and allies on the battlefield in the last one?

Trump prizes loyalty. One way he could repay the loyalty of these Iraqis is to remove the Direct Access Program from the overall refugee ceiling of 45,000 for fiscal 2018. He should also order the government to clear up the backlog. These Iraqis withstood risks to their lives and those of their families to help Americans in a time of need. Clearing the pathway to possible refugee admission, as the program promised, is the right thing to do.


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