Cornyn, Cruz should sup­port bill keep­ing prom­ise to Afghan al­lies

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS -

It has been nearly a decade since I re­turned from Iraq as an in­fantry sergeant in the U.S. Army. Though it took some ad­just­ments at first, I’ve set­tled com­fort­ably into civil­ian life. I am blessed in that re­gard, for while I may have stopped fight­ing, our coun­try has not. Gen. John Ni­chol­son, the top com­man­der of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, is now ask­ing for more troops af­ter 15 years there, which means more re­liance on our lo­cal part­ners on the ground. How­ever, what in­cen­tive do Afghans have in work­ing with U.S. forces if our coun­try con­tin­ues to turn its back on them?

The State De­part­ment said it would soon run out of spe­cial im­mi­grant visas for Afghan ci­ti­zens who have worked with the U.S. gov­ern­ment. As a re­sult, the U.S. Em­bassy in Kabul has halted in­ter­views of po­ten­tial ap­pli­cants, many of them in­ter­preters who al­ready have risked not only their lives, but also the lives of their fam­i­lies, to help U.S. forces. These Afghan trans­la­tors just like those be­fore them have un­doubt­edly proven their ded­i­ca­tion to our coun­try and more than earned the op­por­tu­nity to live safely in the United States and be af­forded the same rights they fought valiantly for in com­bat.

I urge our state’s lead­ers, Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, to sup­port the Keep­ing Our Prom­ise to Our Afghan Al­lies Act, a bi­par­ti­san bill that would in­crease by 2,500 the al­lot­ted amount of visas avail­able for Afghan in­ter­preters. This bill, which was in­tro­duced by Sens. John McCain, Jack Reed, Thom Til­lis and Jeanne Sha­heen is a small but im­por­tant step that high­lights our con­tin­ued com­mit­ment to those who have col­lab­o­rated with our gov­ern­ment at great per­sonal risk.

“Al­low­ing this pro­gram to lapse sends the mes­sage to our al­lies in Afghanistan that the United States has aban­doned them,” said Sha­heen. Even worse, if we don’t ex­tend this pro­gram now, many of our part­ners will die. Last year, Congress failed to au­tho­rize an ad­di­tional 4,000 visas re­quested by the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion. Only 1,500 were ap­proved; more than 10,000 Afghan ci­ti­zens are wait­ing for visas while our enemies are hunt­ing them down.

This piece­meal ap­proach to­ward the SIV pro­gram puts our Afghan al­lies in dan­ger as well as our for­eign pol­icy. If we don’t keep our word to pro­tect those who have pro­tected us on the bat­tle­field, we will have fewer re­sources, not more, in our on­go­ing and ever-grow­ing wars — not only in Afghanistan, but also in Iraq and Syria.

While the SIV is a bi­par­ti­san pro­gram that pro­vides visas to Iraq and Afghanistan in­ter­preters who have served along­side U.S. forces in com­bat, these in­ter­preters have be­come en­tan­gled in a larger im­mi­gra­tion fight rooted in fear and prej­u­dice. Those who ap­ply for SIVs, as do all refugees with hopes of re-set­tling in the U.S., go through a stren­u­ous vet­ting process that in­cludes over­lap­ping se­cu­rity screen­ings with mul­ti­ple de­fense and in­tel­li­gence agen­cies be­fore they even de­part for the United States.

At its core, the SIV pro­gram up­holds the very best of our na­tion’s ideals — rec­og­niz­ing al­lies and lead­ing oth­ers to safety and op­por­tu­nity — while un­der­min­ing the ni­hilis­tic nar­ra­tive of vi­o­lent ex­trem­ists who claim dif­fer­ent peo­ples can­not co­ex­ist peace­fully. The fight with these Is­lamic State and Tal­iban ex­trem­ists is not just on the bat­tle­field. Though war­weary, we should not lose sight of our val­ues. We should con­tinue to wel­come home those who fought for our coun­try, in­stead of turn­ing our backs.

MASSOUD HOSSAINI / AP

Chil­dren in Kabul, Afghanistan, are re­flected in a win­dow of their home. The U.S. Em­bassy in Kabul has halted in­ter­views of ap­pli­cants for spe­cial im­mi­grant visas.

Hi­no­josa

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