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Military Orgs Come Out Against Act Offering ‘Blanket’ Residency Status For Afghan Evacuees

  • Fourteen military and veterans organizations urged Congress in a letter Monday not to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act, a bill meant to fast track permanent residency for Afghans who fled the Taliban.
  • The bill would also grant residency status to those who did not directly support the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and expand eligibility for Afghans who enter the U.S. at any time after it’s enacted.
  • “To provide blanket permanent residency to any Afghan simply lucky enough to get on a plane to the United  States, regardless of their prior relationship to the U.S. government, makes cheap the sacrifices  of Americans and the United States in our battles in Afghanistan,” the letter stated.

Military and veterans organizations spoke out against bills reintroduced in the House and Senate recently they say would open up a “blanket” pathway to permanent residency in the U.S. for all Afghans who escaped their home country after the Taliban takeover.

The bipartisan Afghan Adjustment Act (AAA) and its companion in the House would fast-track tens of thousands of Afghans, who, after the U.S. withdrawal fled to the U.S. on a temporary humanitarian basis, toward full residency status — as well as other evacuees who could end up in the U.S. In a letter sent Monday and obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation, 14 military and veteran-serving organizations urged Congress to scrap or amend the bill as written, arguing that its expansive provisions would allow recipients to gain permanent residency regardless of whether they directly helped the U.S. military.

“While we all believe the United States must make good on the promise it made to those Afghans who were employed by and on behalf of the U.S. government, in roles such as interpreters for our armed forces, and believe the current Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program is poorly constructed, executed even worse, and in desperate need of reform,” the organizations, including the National Defense Committee American GI Forum and HunterSeven Foundation, wrote.

“To provide blanket permanent residency to any Afghan simply lucky enough to get on a plane to the United  States, regardless of their prior relationship to the U.S. government, makes cheap the sacrifices  of Americans and the United States in our battles in Afghanistan,” the letter stated.

The Biden administration committed to bring Afghan allies — thousands of civilians who worked as interpreters or in other capacities to support the U.S. mission in Afghanistan along with their families — to safety after the full military withdrawal in August 2021.

The roughly 72,000 Afghans who came to the U.S. under temporary humanitarian parole as of March 2022 are ineligible to apply for green cards, according to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report. A percentage of those are in the pipeline to obtain Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) and could apply for green cards along with those already granted SIVs when they were evacuated; as of April 2022, the latest date for which data is available, over 33,000 Afghan evacuees had applied for SIVs, adding to an existing backlog.

The remainder have no clear pathway to permanent residency status, the CRS report states.

The AAA would allow parolees to apply for green cards along with SIV holders, as well as opening up eligibility to Afghans entering the U.S. after the bill is enacted as long as they “directly and personally supported” the U.S. mission. It also expands the SIV program to include certain groups affiliated with the former Afghan military.

The bill far exceeds America’s pledge to pay back Afghans who assisted the U.S. military, retired Navy Capt. Bob Carey, who organized the letter and serves as director of the National Defense Committee, told the DCNF.

“If it was a moral imperative, why are we not letting in people from Cambodia, or Nigeria,” or other similarly war-torn countries, he asked. “It’s not in our national interest.”

The AAA “goes far beyond simple reform of the Special Immigrant Visa program for Afghans that worked with the U.S. Government, instead providing blanket permanent residency status for all Afghans in the United States, whether they even supported U.S. Government operations in Afghanistan or not,” the letter stated.

Further burdening the immigration system could exacerbate the potential for security breaches, the letter warned.

Two Inspector General reports found serious deficiencies in the vetting process for Afghan parolees and SIV holders. In some cases the U.S. government “mistakenly grant SIV or parolee status to ineligible Afghan evacuees” without a clear understanding of the security risks. The administration admitted or paroled dozens of evacuees who were flagged as a concern in U.S. databases, according to a Department of Homeland Security audit.

Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota sponsored the Senate version, with four more Democrats and five Republicans signing on as co-sponsors on July 13. Its counterpart in the House, introduced on the same day by Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa, garnered nearly a dozen co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle.

Versions of the AAA were proposed in 2022, but a push to get it included in the must-pass annual defense authorization bill for 2023 failed.

As of April 2023, about 15,000 remaining SIVs were authorized for Afghan partners, according to a State Department report.

If nothing happens, tens of thousands of Afghans could lose temporary protected status in the U.S. unless the administration re-ups their parole status.

A number of military and veterans lobby groups, including The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Blue Star Families, have also written Congress in support of the AAA.

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas introduced a separate measure also on July 13 with three GOP co-sponsors laying out a path to permanent residency for vetted Afghans, but leaving out the AAA’s expansion of SIVs for at-risk Afghans abroad to come to the U.S., according to Roll Call. Instead, it makes those Afghans eligible for a special refugee status while cracking down on the Biden administration’s ability to grant temporary parole to Afghans.

Both bills are in consideration for inclusion into the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2024, Roll Call reported. Opponents accuse Cotton of attempting immigration reform through the bill and imperiling the passage of either one.

“The NDAA is not an immigration bill,” Carey told the DCNF. Passing “nothing is better than the Afghan Adjustment Act.”

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