Washington has welcomed 221 Afghan nationals, who aided the American military during their stay in the Central Asian nation, to the United States. The new arrivals include 57 children and 15 babies.
The adults worked as interpreters to provide logistical and administrative services for the U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and are at risk of facing retaliation from the rogue Taliban forces. 221 individuals were flown out of Afghanistan and are currently being sheltered at the Fort Lee military base in Virginia. The Afghan nationals will stay there for a week while their residency papers in the U.S. are processed.
In a July 30 statement, President Joe Biden called their arrival an “important milestone,” as America fulfilled its promise to the people who helped Washington in the two-decade war in Afghanistan.
The president stated that the Afghans and their families are eligible for Special Immigrant Visas (SIV), a citizenship program created specifically for Iraqi and Afghan interpreters and translators assisting the U.S. military. Since 2008, around 70,000 Afghan nationals have settled in the United States under the program. At present, there are more than 20,000 visa applications from Afghan people under the SIV program, of which half are yet to finish the first step of the process.
“These first Afghans are able to come directly to the United States because they have already completed extensive background checks and security screening by the Intelligence Community and the Departments of State and Homeland Security. They will complete the final steps of their visa applications and required medical checks at Fort Lee, in Virginia, before traveling onward to begin their new lives in the United States,” Biden said in the statement.
The Biden administration’s plan to resettle Afghan aides has attracted criticism, with a resettlement agency asking the president to speed up the transfer process.
“To date, there is simply no clear plan as to how the vast majority of our allies will be brought to safety… We cannot in good conscience put them at risk in third countries with unreliable human rights records, or where the Taliban may be able to reach them,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service resettlement agency, said to Associated Press.
At a recent briefing regarding the resettlement issue, a lawmaker questioned why these plans were not in place before the administration announced the military withdrawal. In an interview with Politico, Democrat Representative Jason Crow, who served in Afghanistan, said that evacuations should have started “right after the announcement” of the withdrawal decision.
Thousands of Afghans who helped U.S. troops are now stranded in various parts of the war-ravaged nation with increasing Taliban dominance. The U.S. State Department set up a task force to assist with the evacuation on July 19, but many said it was far too late.
“They spent so much time debating what direction they wanted to go in on Afghanistan writ-large… When they finally made the decision of a hasty surrender and withdrawal, they didn’t anticipate some of the unintended consequences or really play out a lot of the details — [visas] among them,” Republican Mike Gallagher said to the media outlet.
Meanwhile, Congress recently passed emergency legislation that increased the number of visas for allies who worked alongside U.S. troops in Afghanistan. 8,000 additional visas are now permitted. 500 million dollars has been allocated to meeting the transportation, housing, and other costs related to bringing the Afghan nationals to America.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said that the senators “intend to keep our nation’s promises to brave Afghans” who assisted America in fighting the terrorists. Republican Senator Richard Shelby said that it would be “shameful” if Washington were to not help its allies. The Senate passed the legislation 98-0, and the House followed suit with a vote of 416-11.
On July 22, the House also passed the Allies Act of 2021 with a 407-16 vote. The bill aims to expedite the SIV process for Afghan allies.
“An alien may qualify based on a credible basis for concern about the possibility of an ongoing serious threat in Afghanistan due to their work with the U.S. government or a NATO mission, where currently the alien must have experienced such a threat. The bill also eliminates a requirement for each applicant to submit a credible sworn statement describing that threat,” says the bill summary.