Biden Urged to Expedite Visas for Afghan Interpreters Facing Taliban Death Threats or There Will Be ‘Blood on His Hands’ After U.S. Withdrawal
Should Afghan interpreters be evacuated while their visas are processed amid Taliban death threats?
What’s the story?
- A bipartisan group of lawmakers is urging the Biden administration to speed up the processing of visas for Afghan interpreters who assisted the American military as the U.S. continues its withdrawal out of Afghanistan and those interpreters (along with their families) face death threats from the Taliban. The U.S. withdrawal is expected to be completed by September 11th.
- In a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the issue in May, Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL), a former Green Beret, and retired Army Ranger Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO) recounted stories about Afghans they served alongside who were subsequently murdered by the Taliban for assisting American and coalition forces.
- For example, Crow explained that a man named Mohammad who worked with the U.S. for 12 years and first applied for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) in 2010 but faced repeated delays and denials until he was gunned down in January 2021 in front of his 10-year old son by the Taliban, who later sent Mohammad’s oldest son a death threat.
- Waltz and Crow were joined by the American Legion at a press conference earlier this month to emphasize the urgency of expediting visa approvals to get eligible Afghans out of the country before they can be targeted by the Taliban. Waltz said:
“How many future Afghan families, how many great American contributions will we not have if President Biden does not act, and act now. If he does not act and does not get these people out, blood will be on his hands and his administration’s hands… We have a moral and national security obligation to get these people out. Evacuate them now. We’ve done it before; we can do it again.”
- Crow added, “Make no mistake, there is a moral imperative at play here. The American handshake has to mean something” and urged President Joe Biden to “do the right thing and evacuate those who stood by us at great personal risk.”
- In 2006, Congress established the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program to allow Afghans and Iraqis who served alongside U.S. forces as interpreters or contractors to receive permanent U.S. resident status and access to benefits for refugees.
- From the creation of the SIV program to March 31, 2021, a total of 99,279 individuals received SIV visas, including 30,541 Afghans and Iraqis who worked with the U.S. plus 68,738 dependent spouses and children, according to data from the State Dept.
- The SIV program currently has an application backlog of more than 18,000 Afghans. Historically, it takes about 800 days for the State Dept. to process an application and conduct security screenings. Congress has acted on several occasions over the years to adopt bills to address the visa shortage by incorporating legislation into defense authorization bills.
- With less than 100 days remaining before the publicly announced withdrawal date, the bipartisan Honoring our Promises Working Group has urged the Biden administration to temporarily move the Afghans caught in the backlog to Guam to ensure their safety while their paperwork is processed.
- The working group suggested Guam because it has been used in the evacuation of refugees in the past. In 1975, about 130,000 Vietnamese refugees were temporarily moved to Guam while their visas were processed; and a similar scenario occurred in 1996 for Iraqi Kurds.
- The working group also introduced the Averting Loss of Life and Injury by Expediting SIVs (ALLIES) Act, which would raise the Afghan SIV cap by 8,000 and ease requirements to allow more Afghans employed by the International Security Assistance Force to qualify for the SIV program.
- Secretary of State Antony Blinken indicated that the 8,000 additional visas would complement the 11,000 currently available visas, which should be enough to accommodate all Afghans currently in the pipeline. Blinken added that the State Dept. could request more Afghan visas later, and he told lawmakers in a hearing that the U.S. withdrawal won’t necessarily prompt “some kind of immediate deterioration in the [security] situation.”
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army Europe photo by Sgt. Michael Sword via Flickr / Public Domain)
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