Cornyn, Cruz should support bill keeping promise to Afghan allies
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.
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.