In light of the recently announced departure of US troops from Afghanistan, there should be considerable concern regarding the fate of the Afghan and Iraqi interpreters who served alongside U.S. troops, contractors, and diplomats.
Various Special Immigrant Visa programs have been established since 2006 to assist in safely resettling eligible applicants in the United States, however, a new strategy is needed to swiftly ensure the safety of these individuals and their families once U.S. forces depart the region.
For the 20 years — the period that the US military has been in Afghanistan — thousands of Afghan allies who have offered life-saving assistance and repeatedly put their lives in danger to serve alongside the U.S. troops and other government officials, have benefited from the SIV program.
By the end of Fiscal Year 2019, the U.S. government had offered over 89,000 special immigrant status through the three SIV programs to Iraqi and Afghan interpreters and their immediate family members.
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Recently, the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2021, authorized 4,000 additional SIVs for Afghan principal applicants as of December 27, 2020.
These visas will go a long way in ensuring that more Afghanis who assisted the U.S. Government in any way remain safe especially now that the U.S. military is leaving the country. Conversely, this act came after the COVID-19 pandemic had stalled the processing of interpreters’ visa applications — visa interviews had not been conducted since March 2020.
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Recovering from the effects of this halt in a period when all the officials are busy packing, will not be a walk in the park. The number of stalled Afghans’ SIV applications as of September 2019 was 19,000, a number that has increased exponentially since, as estimated by the Washington Post.
Considering the persistent threats that these interpreters are receiving from the Taliban and the Islamic States for their collaboration with the United States, Veterans and refugee organizations such No One Left Behind are working tirelessly to ensure that the U.S. government follows through on its commitment to them.
These organizations and other stakeholders have applied strategic advocacy, fundraising, and zealous casework to ensure that these individuals are protected and rewarded accordingly.
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The U.S. Government should use its authority to issue Special Immigrant Visas to Afghan nationals under section 602(b) of the amended Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009, to fast track the process of issuing all the visas allocated under the act.
Keeping our promise to Afghans who risked life and limb in the battlefield is not just an issue of moral obligation, it’s one of national security that serves the future interests of our military. These individuals have demonstrated bravery, commitment to America’s military, and sacrificed their safety. I can’t think of any other attributes that we can seek from an individual before welcoming them to the United States.
Columbus native Howard Manuel was raised in Westerville and attended Ohio University. He is now a Washington D.C. based lawyer and serves on the Board of Directors for No One Left Behind, a nonprofit that promotes Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) for interpreters and translators who worked with U.S. and NATO troops during Afghanistan and Iraq military operations.