Watch John Oliver skewer the US government for failing its war zone interpreters

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In Iraq and Afghanistan, interpreters working for the US military and other American organizations automatically become targets for terrorist groups. But when it comes to ensuring the safety of these people by providing special immigrant visas, British comedian John Oliver argues the US falls well short of its moral obligations.

The US has employed than tens of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis in conflict zones. The risks they incur are real and deadly. Muhammad, an Afghan interviewed on Oliver’s show, had been shot at twice, his father was murdered, and his three-year-old brother was kidnapped. Oliver argues the US should do whatever it takes to help people like Muhammad.

The US government actually has the legal structures in place: Iraqis and Afghans who work for the US government are eligible for a special immigrant visa (SIV). There were over 25,000 SIVs available since 2008 (pdf) for Iraqis and over 7,500 for Afghans—but only about 16,000 visas were approved. For translators and interpreters, the government issued a 50-person cap in 2006 for how many can be counted towards a SIV.

The application process involves 14 steps, and can take years to complete. The visa program is expected to end with the formal withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.