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Congress Is Dishonoring America’s Afghan Allies

Nine months since the chaotic US exit from Afghanistan, tens of thousands of Afghans evacuated to the United States remain uncertain about their future status. The failure of America’s leaders to provide a pathway for these allies to stay in the US is nothing short of a national disgrace.

Of the 76,000 Afghans brought to the US through Operation Allies Welcome following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, more than half either hold or qualify for the Special Immigrant Visas available to Afghans who worked directly for the US government. Another 36,433 evacuees came into the country under so-called humanitarian parole, which allows them to live and work in the US for two years but includes no pathway to a green card. To stay longer, they would need to apply for asylum, a process that can take years and requires extensive paperwork.

These Afghans include family members of US citizens, as well as lawyers, journalists and activists who feared retaliation after the fall of Kabul. Many worked in some capacity alongside the US and other Western governments. While the White House has extended Temporary Protected Status to Afghans, that designation only lasts for 18 months. There’s no guarantee it will be extended or for how long.

There’s a straightforward way to resolve the Afghans’ immigration status: Congress could pass an “adjustment act” that would allow them to apply for permanent status in the US after a year. The US has previously offered such adjustments to refugees from Vietnam, Cuba and Iraq.

Unfortunately, opposition from key Republicans has stymied bipartisan efforts to pass such a measure. The security concerns legislators have raised are spurious, since applicants would have to undergo additional vetting as part of the process. Moreover, the evacuees did not break any immigration laws or jump any queues; allowing them to stay would not set any controversial precedents. The numbers involved, in a country the size of the US, are minuscule.

Leaving these Afghans in legal limbo would dishonor the sacrifices of tens of thousands of others who fought alongside the US, whether on the battlefield or in civil society. It’s also impossible to imagine sending evacuees back to a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Needlessly adding years of struggle, red tape and uncertainty to their quest for a visa would be pointless and cruel.

Given how many Afghans eligible for SIVs or other immigration visas were left behind, the least the US can do is take care of the few who made it out. Congress should introduce and pass an Afghan Adjustment Act with bipartisan support and without delay, either as a standalone or as part of a larger bill. Swift passage would allow procedures to be established by the time most evacuees have been in the US for a year and need to apply for permanent status. Further delay risks dragging out the process uncomfortably close to when their parole status will expire.

Two related issues require urgent attention.

First, it’s important to note that while most of the focus has been on SIV applicants, who are mostly men, Afghan women risked just as much if not more to promote the values of a new Afghanistan. Female judges, prosecutors, journalists and human rights advocates are arguably more at risk now than ever before.

Second, many Afghans associated with the democratic project fled to other countries, including Pakistan and Turkey, in hopes of moving on to the US. While many should qualify for visas, it is incumbent on the US to increase embassy staff in these places so that Afghan cases can be properly processed.

There’s much to criticize about the Biden administration’s handling of the US pullout from Afghanistan. But innocent Afghans should not have to pay the price for US blunders. Doing right by those who helped the US in Afghanistan would be a first step toward meeting the country’s obligations to its allies. 

More From Bloomberg Opinion:

Will Afghanistan’s Media Survive Under the Taliban?: Bobby Ghosh

The US Should Manage Afghanistan’s Money Wisely: Editorial

Can the Taliban Rule Afghanistan? History Says Not: Max Hastings

The Editors are members of the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.

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