This August marks the second anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Two years later, hundreds of Afghan allies still feel forgotten and remain in danger in Afghanistan. For these abandoned partners, the comfortable and prosperous life they were promised by the U.S. for their sacrifice and hard work is desperately out of grasp.
The legislation impacts Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) for U.S. allies in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the inefficiency and bureaucracy of SIV hamstringing Afghans, the AAA would have helped many of these allies already in the U.S. by providing permanent legal status. It also would have formalized better coordination between U.S. agencies and military branches to help Afghan allies reach safety in the U.S. Despite competing bills under consideration earlier this summer, the AAA was not included in the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act.
As of March 2023, 152,091 Afghan SIV applicants are stuck in Afghanistan awaiting their applications to be processed. The State Department said the process takes a minimum of 628 days (20 months) compared to the 9-month timeline required by Congress. That’s nearly 96 percent of SIV applicants left behind waiting. The largest stadium in the world couldn’t contain the number of applicants stuck in the backlog.
With the initial protections of many evacuated allies about to run out, the omission is a reminder that their refuge remains temporary and uncertain. Though the Biden administration has allowed Afghans to renew their parole for another two years, key reforms would be cutting the red tape and creating smooth pathways to legal status.
The U.S. needs to do much more to aid its allies to find that better life our government promised. A June government report concluded that existing aid programs for Afghans who helped the U.S. military are not working.
Our failures have meant life-and-death challenges for Afghan allies left behind. Hakima, a 24-year-old woman, told the aid group Association of Wartime Allies that she fears for her husband’s and her own life. She has “no work, no duties, no income,” and always “live[s] in fear.”
Hakima is not alone. All Afghan women have had their rights drawn back by the Taliban. As many as 300 have been killed while waiting in line for their visas to be approved. Taliban leaders enforce hard restrictions on women and girls in public, employment, and education despite promises of a more moderate rule than previous Taliban regimes.
Men and women like Hakima don’t have a way out of Afghanistan today. For those that found refuge in the U.S., like former commander of the Afghan military’s Female Tactical Platoon Mahnaz Akbari, they have been met with a convoluted and notoriously backlogged process. Luckily, there are solutions for Congress and the president to use.
President Joe Biden has the power to create a special humanitarian parole program for those approved by the U.S. agents who oversaw their work. Thousands of SIV applicants have already been approved, but can’t move forward in Afghanistan without an embassy to take their fingerprints or to conduct an interview. The parole program would let already-approved people come to America to complete their SIV applications in safety.
Simple reform efforts can streamline applications and create new pathways for those who supported the U.S. military. The U.S. has the power to make these changes and save many forgotten lives in Afghanistan.