May 30, 2024
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May 30, 2024
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Assisting Our Middle Eastern Allies

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

In our nation’s not so distant past, this Emma Lazarus quote inscribed on a plaque on the Statue of Liberty embodied the American Dream for many immigrants. Today, it seems like an ironic reminder of US immigration priorities, which allow the wealthy to buy green cards (see my previous article on EB-5) while the migrant worker is labeled a rule breaker and deported back to poverty. However, there is currently a very active, influential organization working to uphold the spirit of Lazarus’s words and establish the United States as a sanctuary for some of the world’s most deserving refugees.

The Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) was founded in 2008 by students at Yale Law School, and has since expanded into an international collaboration among a nonprofit organization, law students and law firms facilitating safe passage to the United States for tens and thousands of men and women, including many who risked their lives on behalf of the American government and our military. IRAP has grown into a global organization that assists refugees in the Middle East and North Africa to firmly resettle in safe locales. Although IRAP was originally established to aid those Iraqis who were persecuted for assisting the US military during the war, the organization today also works tirelessly on behalf of other vulnerable communities in the region, such as the LGBTQ community, survivors of sexual assault/human trafficking and children with medical emergencies.

IRAP provides comprehensive legal representation to Iraqis and Afghans who risked their lives on our behalf during the recent wars in the Middle East, including individuals who worked as interpreters with the US military and those who provided military assistance. Through a combination of direct legal services and broader systemic advocacy, IRAP seeks to ensure a system where the human rights of our beleaguered allies are secured by providing homes where they can live without fear.

One of the complex legal pathways for international refugee resettlement that IRAP navigates is the Special Immigrant Visa program (SIV). The SIV is a path to citizenship for certain Iraqi and Afghan nationals who worked for the US as translators or interpreters, or who were otherwise employed by, or on behalf of, the US government in Iraq or Afghanistan.

IRAP’s work has indeed been influential. On December 12, 2014, Congress passed bipartisan legislation to extend and expand the SIV program that has enabled so many of our allies to escape the life-threatening circumstances they face for having worked with the United States.

Unfortunately, bureaucratic obstacles and security concerns have severely limited the number of eligible individuals who have been granted Special Immigrant visas to the United States. According to a letter from certain members of Congress, only about 22 percent of the available visas for Iraqis have been issued, compared to a meager 12 percent for Afghans. Despite the seemingly endless hurdles, IRAP has successfully resettled over 2,000 refugees.

With the situation in Iraq steadily deteriorating as ISIS advances, the work of organizations such as IRAP becomes increasingly important. The firm of Wildes & Weinberg recognizes refugees’ crucial need for legal assistance, and is dedicated to offering its pro bono services for these individuals fighting for their lives. In fact, we recently worked with the US government to ensure safe passage out of Afghanistan for a brave individual who has been threatened by the Taliban due to his heroic rescue of a US Navy SEAL. We applaud the work of IRAP and support their mission of securing sanctuary for our Middle Eastern allies.

This article is based on information available as of its publication and is not intended to be all-inclusive or to furnish advice in a particular case. We are not responsible for any changes in regulations that may occur subsequent to publication. Please feel free to contact our office for further information and advice.

Michael J. Wildes is the Managing Partner of Wildes and Weinberg, P.C. Mr. Wildes is a former Federal Prosecutor with the United States Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn (1989–1993). Mr. Wildes has testified on Capitol Hill in connection with anti-terrorism legislation and is internationally renowned for his successful representation of several defectors who have provided difficult-to-obtain national security information. He is frequently a legal commentator/analyst for network television. He is an Adjunct Professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York and teaches Business Immigration Law. From 2004 through 2010, Mr. Wildes was also the Mayor of Englewood, New Jersey—where he resides. Wildes and Weinberg, P.C. has offices in New York, New Jersey and Florida. If you would like to contact Michael Wildes please email him at [email protected] and visit the firm’s website at

By Michael Wildes

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