America’s Second Abandonment of Afghans
If Congress fails to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act, thousands who sacrificed to help us may find themselves without a home.
IT’S BEEN TWO YEARS SINCE THE FALL OF KABUL, when more than 124,000 Afghans fled their home after the United States withdrew its last troops. Some 76,000 Afghans eventually resettled in the United States, granted temporary humanitarian parole by the Biden administration. But most remain in legal limbo, unsure of their future, because Congress has not acted to grant them permanent status. It’s a disgrace, and a handful of Republicans are largely to blame.
The Afghan Adjustment Act would give permanent residence to Afghans who have been paroled into the United States. It’s not a heavy lift. Democrat Sen. Amy Klobuchar introduced the latest, bipartisan legislation in July with four other Democrats and five Republican cosponsors; Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks introduced a similar measure in the House with two dozen cosponsors from both sides of the aisle. The Klobuchar bill includes tough vetting measures to ensure that deserving Afghans receive protection while those who may pose a security threat are weeded out.
Yet neither the Senate nor House has been able to move, largely because of objections by Sen. Chuck Grassley, who blocked a similar bill in committee last year, and Sen. Tom Cotton, who has submitted a competing bill this year. Cotton wants to tie Afghan readjustment to severely restricting the president’s powers to grant future humanitarian parole to others fleeing wars or political oppression.
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Congress could have included Afghan adjustment in the National Defense Authorization Act, different versions of which passed the Senate and House in July, but chose not to. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Afghans living in the United States face a precarious future as their two-year parole status expires. President Biden has authorized renewal of temporary parole on a case-by-case basis, but many Afghans may be confused about whether or how they need to apply for an extension. Some parolees may be eligible to apply for Special Immigrant Visas (SIV), available to translators and others attached to work with the U.S. embassy or the military, but only about 22,000 have been granted so far—and most of those were issued before the U.S. withdrawal. Some estimates are that 150,000 individuals remain in Afghanistan who should be eligible for SIVs. Rep. Jason Crow has introduced a bill to provide an additional 20,000 SIVs and streamline the processing of applications, which currently takes about fourteen months. But there has been no more action on his bill than on the Afghan Adjustment Act.
Sen. Grassley won’t likely change his mind about giving Afghans permanent residency. He’s claimed he’s concerned that Afghans weren’t properly vetted before being admitted, allowing in about 50 individuals who were deemed by Department of Homeland Security to be security risks. But Sen. Klobuchar’s legislation significantly improves the vetting process for parolees eligible for permanent status, setting standards equivalent to those used for refugees to the United States, requiring in-person interviews, and establishing a mechanism for DHS to consult with Congress on the implementation and review of vetting procedures.
Republican recalcitrance to giving permanent status to Afghans is a far cry from the historical role Republicans have played in welcoming those from other war-torn nations who stood beside us in the past. In 1975, under Republican President Gerald Ford, the United States welcomed 125,000 Vietnamese, and the Vietnamese foreign-born population in America has reportedly doubled each decade from 1980-2000. Republicans have also been in the forefront of welcoming Cuban refugees fleeing communism. Yet Sen. Cotton’s bill would cut off the Biden administration’s efforts to provide special humanitarian parole to current migrants from Communist Cuba as well as Communist-leaning Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Why on Earth would future wartime allies be willing to risk their lives to protect Americans when they see how feckless our politicians’ behavior has been toward Afghans? The failure to act on the Afghan Adjustment Act imperils not only these brave individuals but the United States’ ability to earn the trust of those whose help we will need in the next war. Sen. Cotton and other Republicans need to quit playing politics with American national security and provide permanent status to Afghans in the United States.