Veterans Call on Congress to Protect Afghan War Allies
Washington, D.C. — A group of veterans and veteran organizations, including Medal of Honor recipients, former chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff, and Human Rights First’s Veterans for American Ideals, today urged Congress to take action to protect Afghan military allies seeking refuge in the United States. In a letter sent to members of the House and Senate, the group called for immediate action to honor the United States’ obligation to the many Afghan personnel, including interpreters and translators, who served alongside U.S. troops at great personal risk.
“Those Afghans who served with us risked their lives every day to work for the betterment of their country and ours,” said Human Rights First’s Scott Cooper, who leads the organization’s Veterans for American Ideals project. “They risked their lives for the same ideals we fought for. Today they are threatened because of their affiliation with the United States. We must keep our word and stand with them.”
In 2009, Congress passed the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009. The act provided special immigrant visas (SIV) to Afghans who worked as translators or interpreters, or who were employed by, or on behalf of, the U.S. government in Afghanistan, and whose lives were threatened because of their work in support of the U.S. mission, to resettle in the United States. A similar program was enacted in 2006 for Iraqi translators, interpreters, and workers, but that program expired in 2014. The Afghan program was designed to provide 7,500 visas over five years. Extensions were passed in 2014 and 2015 that made seven thousand more visas available. But with the Afghan program set to expire at the end of Fiscal Year 2016, many could be left behind. Roughly 7,800 Afghans and their families are waiting for a special immigrant visa, according to the State Department, but as of June, only 3,288 visas remained.
Continuation of the Afghan SIV program depends on the final legislation that would be worked out in conference committees between the House and Senate versions of either the Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 National Defense Authorization Act or the FY17 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill.
Today’s letter was signed by members of every branch of service in every United States-involved conflict dating back to World War II. The group includes Medal of Honor recipients, wartime commanders, and former chairmen of the Joints Chiefs of Staff. Veterans organizations including Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, No One Left Behind, Vietnam Veterans of America, and Veterans for American Ideals joined with the Truman National Security Project and the International Refugee Assistance Project to also sign onto the letter. Specifically, the group called on Congress to:
- Authorize, at a minimum, six thousand additional principal Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans
- Review and update the SIV program to address the current shortcomings to protecting all wartime allies
- Authorize the SIV program to continue for as long as the United States commits military forces (in either a combat or advisory/training role) in Afghanistan and Iraq
- Extend the Category 5 provision of the Direct Access program (currently only available for Iraqis) to the extended family of Afghan SIV applications.
“Many of us can point to a moment when one of our foreign allies saved our lives – often by taking up arms against our common enemies,” wrote the group. “They acted because they believed in America, in our mission, and in the promise that was given. We urge Congress to set aside political differences to help our deployed troops accomplish the mission through keeping our promise to our wartime allies.”
Veterans for American Ideals, a project of Human Rights First, is working to ensure that Afghan allies are not left behind.