Interpreters have worked honorably alongside U.S. troops and diplomats in Afghanistan and Iraq for more than a decade. Without their help and local knowledge, our missions would undoubtedly be more difficult and more dangerous.
These colleagues have served our country -- and theirs -- with distinction. Their bravery has saved American lives. Yet because of their work on our behalf, some of them face threats.
Consistent with our tremendous gratitude to this community, the Obama administration strongly supports the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, which allows us to bring eligible individuals and their family members to safety here inside the United States.
Last month, President Obama signed legislation continuing the Iraqi SIV program until the end of the year, and we are working to extend both the Iraq and Afghanistan visa programs even further.
We have also made important improvements to the SIV application process, which are showing positive results. Following an increase in resources to improve efficiency over the last year, nearly 1,600 Afghans and their family members received Special Immigrant Visas.
This is the largest number since the program began and a tenfold increase from the previous year. Nearly 3,600 visas were issued for Iraqi interpreters, other staff, and family members in the same period, bringing the total to nearly 15,000 since 2007.
We know that every SIV issued represents an opportunity to begin a new life here in the United States, and we will continue our efforts to improve the multi-agency process. At the same time, we must continue to follow procedures that are vital to our security.
Just as we have an obligation to help those who helped us, we have a responsibility to the American people to ensure that special visa recipients -- like all those who enter the U.S.A. -- do not pose a threat.
The State Department, and the other departments and agencies, have the highest respect for the men and women who take enormous risks in helping our troops and diplomats. We are committed to helping all those who are eligible for as long as we have congressional authority to do so, in a secure and responsible manner.
We owe them, and the American people, nothing less.
About the Author: Patrick F. Kennedy serves as the Under Secretary of State for Management.
Editor's Note: This entry originally appeared as an opinion piece for USA Today.