After Long Battle, Vets Win Fight for Afghan Allies in Washington
Ask any veteran who served overseas and they will tell you that our mission, and sometimes our lives, depended on the interpreters, translators, and other local allies of Iraq and Afghanistan. These allies stood alongside us—at great risk to their own lives and their families’.
We were taught to never leave anyone behind. Though we’ve taken off our uniforms, our service to this country and its values hasn’t ended. Neither did the promise we made to our allies.
For the last two years, Veterans for American Ideals (VFAI) has been fighting to keep that promise.
Late last year, Human Rights First hosted VFAI leaders in the capitol as they fought to save the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, which allows qualified Afghan allies to seek safe harbor in America. The situation was grim: the SIV program was set to expire, leaving thousands of Afghan allies in harm’s way. After meeting with key lawmakers from both political parties, VFAI leaders convinced Congress that the Afghan SIV program was vital asset to our national security.
However, due to political infighting, only 1,500 of the 4,000 visas that we requested for 2017 were authorized. We saved the program, but the fight wasn’t over. There were still over 13,000 Afghan allies waiting for a visa.
In early of 2017, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul announced that it had stopped taking Special Immigrant Visa interviews altogether. The new visas authorized by Congress were all but gone.
Not content to leave the fight to Washington, our leaders at Vets for American Ideals started organizing in their own communities.
While Congress was in recess, they met them in districts from coast to coast: from California to New York, Texas to Pennsylvania, Colorado to Massachusetts. They spoke at rallies, welcomed Afghan SIV families at airports, and signed petitions. The strategy was simple: to win 2,500 more visas for 2017, making up the difference between the 4,000 requested and 1,500 that were received from Congress.
By the Spring of 2017, VFAI membership had swelled to over 2,500 veterans from across the nation. Leveraging their networks, VFAI leaders partnered with other veteran organizations like Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America, No One Left Behind, Vietnam Veterans of America, and the Association of the U.S. Army. We sent letters to every member of Congress from this coalition, representing over 150,000 military veterans. We even got respected military leaders like retired 4-star General Carter Ham and national security experts like retired Ambassadors James Jeffrey and Richard Olson involved in the fight.
As Congress reconvened to deliberate on legislation that would fund the government in 2017, VFAI saw the opportunity for victory. We convened again in Washington, D.C. In meetings with 25 Congressional offices and with key members of Congress and their staff, we told the authentic stories our members and the Afghan allies they served with. We spoke as experts, as experienced veterans, and most importantly, as engaged citizens.
And we won.
Congress heard our voices, and in a spending bill passed on May 4, 2017, 2,500 additional visas for our Afghan allies were authorized.
But while Vets for American Ideals led the charge to protect our Afghan allies and keep our nation’s promise, the fight is not over. So long as the United States remains in Afghanistan, more of our Afghan allies will rely on us for help—and Veterans for American ideals has made it their mission to make sure they get it.