Proposal aims to help Afghan allies seeking permanent U.S. residency

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As this month marks one year since U.S. troops left Afghanistan, questions remain about what happens to many of the Afghan allies who were left behind.

Now a new proposal in Congress would create a faster way for Afghans who served alongside U.S. forces to apply for permanent legal residency in the United States.

Lawmakers behind the bill said Afghans who were granted temporary humanitarian status can currently only get permanent legal status through asylum or the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) system, which can mean long processing times and backlogs.

The Afghan Adjustment Act would allow Afghans with temporary status to undergo additional vetting to apply for legal permanent residency.

It would also expand eligibility for an SIV so that it includes groups who worked alongside U.S. forces.

“These evacuees are people who stood by our service members, risking their safety and the safety of their loved ones, in support of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), a co-sponsor of the bill. “This bill maintains a rigorous vetting process while providing an opportunity for Afghan refugees to rebuild their lives in America.”

“Giving our Afghan allies a chance to apply for permanent legal status is the right and necessary thing to do,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), another co-sponsor of the bill. “This bipartisan legislation will help provide these newly arrived Afghans who have sacrificed so much for our country with the legal certainty they deserve as they begin their lives in the U.S.”

Veterans’ groups said it’s crucial for the federal government to keep its promises to the Afghan allies who were left behind.

“It wasn’t just our President or our Secretary of Defense or military leaders with stars on their shoulders,” said Tom Porter, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). “It was individual service members like me and colleagues of mine that I served with. We made promises to those that served alongside us. So, what that amounts to oftentimes is the veterans believing that they broke their promise to these Afghans that sacrificed their own safety and committed to our mission.”

Last week, the State Department said it has made progress over the last year.

“Over the course of what we call Operation Allies Welcome, more than 75,000 Afghans have departed Afghanistan and have made their way to the United States with the help of our resettlement partners across the country,” said Ned Price, spokesperson for the State Department.

Porter said while the veteran community may have differing views about what went wrong in Afghanistan, there is agreement when it comes to helping Afghan allies.

“What’s generally universal is we should have taken care of those Afghans that committed their lives, that sacrificed their safety and the safety of their families to partner with the United States and NATO allies,” said Porter.

The bipartisan bill has only been introduced in the Senate so far.