When the plight of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis finally led to the passage of the bi-partisan Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act of 2008, also known as the Kennedy Legislation, 5,000 Special Immigrant Visa slots were opened each year to those Iraqis who risked their lives on behalf of America.
In 2009, the Afghan Allies Protection Act passed, opening up an additional 1,500 Special Immigrant Visa slots for Afghans who had served as interpreters and other critical functions.
During Congressional hearings on the fate of Iraqi allies upon America’s withdrawal in July 2010, I noted that the State Department’s web page offering guidance & application instructions for Afghan interpreters was still “under construction,” a full year after the passage of the 2009 legislation. While we have been principally concerned with protecting Iraqis on our list, it was clear that the Afghans would be facing a severe, if not worse fate. Many have written to us for help over the years.
What I didn’t know then, was that in February of 2010, then-Ambassador in Kabul Karl Eikenberry cabled the State Department to ask them not to implement the Afghan Allies Protection Act. Despite the fact that Congress had already expressed its intent to issue 1,500 visas each year, Eikenberry stressed that “This act could drain this country of our very best civilian and military partners: our Afghan employees…If we are not careful the SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) program will have a significant deleterious impact on staffing and morale, as well as undermining our overall mission in Afghanistan. Local staff are not easily replenished in a society at 28 percent literacy.”
The effect of the cable was immediate and lasting: the Special Immigrant Visa program, which has been dramatically under-implemented for our Iraqi allies, was effectively euthanized for the Afghans serving the United States.
And now, with the timetable for withdrawal established, the Washington Post reported last week that “[o]f the more than 5,700 Afghans who have applied for U.S. visas under a special program tailored for those who have supported the American war effort, just 32 have been approved, the State Department says, leaving the rest in limbo as foreign forces begin their withdrawal.”
All you have to do is pay a visit to the State Department’s Wrapsnet website, which posts the monthly numbers of visas. For the current fiscal year, the monthly average of Special Immigrant Visas granted to Afghans is 4 per month.
While we continue to fight on behalf of the Iraqis who have been left behind, and who stare into a process that takes years to navigate, it is increasingly clear that U.S.-affiliated Afghans have a grim future….
-Kirk W. Johnson