The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Congress drops Afghan allies item, dimming evacuee hopes

The bipartisan measure to provide permanent residency to Afghans rescued from Kabul, and supported by numerous veterans groups and advocates, was scuttled by GOP leaders

Demonstrators outside the Capitol support new Afghan immigrants in D.C. on Dec. 8. (Mariam Zuhaib/AP)

Congress dropped from its $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill an amendment that would have created a pathway to residency for Afghan refugees, dimming the hopes for tens of thousands of people rescued as Kabul fell in August 2021. Advocates of the legislation have described the move as a betrayal that would sour potential allies in future conflicts.

Advocates blamed Republican Sens. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa) and Mitch McConnell (Ky.) for opposing the measure while others scrambled in a last-minute lobbying effort to secure a floor amendment.

The act was shepherded by co-sponsors from both parties in a rare bipartisan showing, driven by numerous veterans groups and advocates who said the United States made commitments to Afghan partners, including interpreters for American military units and staff for government projects.

The Afghan Adjustment Act, or AAA, would have eliminated the threat of deportation or joblessness for the nearly 73,000 evacuees who entered the United States under a temporary status known as “humanitarian parole” that will expire next summer. The legislation offered them the opportunity to receive green cards after undergoing additional vetting.

A desperate road trip to remind America about its Afghan allies

McConnell indirectly addressed the failed measure, telling reporters Tuesday that it was important and should be a focus, but that other critical items also did not find a home in the spending bill. Grassley has opposed the AAA over security concerns and said he and other lawmakers could not support it “as long as the vetting process is not improved,” he told reporters Tuesday.

“What we’re seeing is the Republicans are really in the way. And that’s disappointing, because a lot of them told us they would be with us,” said Shawn Van Diver, a Navy veteran and head of #AfghanEvac, a coalition of more than 180 nonprofits and other organizations that are supporting Afghan resettlement efforts.

Van Diver and scores of other veterans have traversed Capitol Hill and the United States to push for the AAA’s inclusion in the spending bill. On Tuesday, Van Diver spoke to a reporter by phone as he roamed the Dirksen Senate Office Building for Republican staffers to pull aside, finding few as holiday recess nears.

The measure is a national security imperative, he said, because potential allies in future U.S. conflicts could recall the ordeal as a signal the United States won’t fulfill its obligations to its partners.

“They stood for us for 20 years,” Van Diver said of the Afghans. “We told them, ‘We promise we’ll take good care of you.’ And we abandoned them.”

That sentiment was echoed in a letter to Congress published Saturday and signed by more than 30 retired officers, including three former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “If we claim to support the troops and want to enable their success in wartime, we must keep our commitments today. The AAA will go a long way,” the letter said.

Republicans have pointed to a report from the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general that found the agency lacked “critical data to properly screen, vet and inspect” evacuees. The probe found that “at least two” people were paroled into the country who “posed a risk to national security and the safety of local communities” — a tiny fraction of the 73,000 admitted.

Advocates worry that the AAA will be dead in the water if pushed into a new session next year, when Republicans appear intent on scrutinizing the Biden administration over the chaotic Kabul evacuation. About 170 Afghans and 13 U.S. troops were killed in a suicide bombing during the operation. The United States killed 10 civilians in a botched drone strike days later.

Liz Goodwin, Abigail Hauslohner and Paul Kane contributed to this report.