Veterans Urge Congress to Protect Wartime Allies
Washington, D.C.—Veterans for American Ideals, a project of Human Rights First, in partnership with fellow veteran organizations, today called on Congress to take immediate action to protect Afghan allies in danger because of their service in support of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. The call came in a letter urging for the swift passage of the Keeping Our Promise to Our Afghan Allies Act (S.630 and H.R. 1544), a bill which provides an emergency allocation of 2,500 visas for the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program.
Veterans for American Ideals joined with the Association of the U.S. Army, High Ground Veterans Advocacy, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, No One Left Behind, and Vietnam Veterans of America.
“Our Afghan allies have made incredible sacrifices while serving alongside U.S. troops, diplomats, and other officials. Many service members are alive and were able to come home because of these brave wartime partners,” wrote the organizations. “We call on the U.S. Congress to demonstrate that it will not abandon these wartime heroes by supporting the Keeping Our Promise to Our Afghan Allies Act.”
Last month Human Rights First expressed alarm over news that the U.S. Embassy in Kabul ceased scheduling interviews for the SIV program. The program, which provides visas to Afghans who worked as translators or interpreters, and were employed by, or on behalf of, the U.S. government in Afghanistan, is a vital pipeline to safety for individuals who are threatened because of their work in support of the U.S. mission.
In 2009, Congress passed the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009. The visas allotted in the act allowed wartime allies in Afghanistan to resettle in the United States. 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 as of early October 2016, only 1,632 visas remained. In December, when President Obama signed the defense authorization that reauthorized the Afghan SIV program for an additional four years, a mere 1,500 new visas were added. Only three months later those visas were nearly gone with more than ten thousand applications pending.
“This bill will reaffirm our commitment to the brave men and women who stood alongside us despite great personal risk,” said founder of Veterans for American Ideals Scott Cooper. “If the bill fails to pass, we would not only be undermining our national security, we would be breaking the word of our military personnel, who swore they would not leave their allies behind.”