Democrats and Republicans say they want to help Afghan veterans. So why haven’t they done anything?
The collapse of Afghanistan’s government at the hands of the Taliban forced thousands of the nation’s people to flee their homeland, including many of those who served as translators and other aides to US military forces.
But in the more than a year and a half since, the United States has failed to offer immigration assistance to most Afghans who helped American forces, which would allow them to stay in the country on a more permanent basis.
According to International Rescue Committee, the US admitted 76,000 Afghans as part of Operation Allies Welcome.
In the United Kingdom, the government pledged to allow Afghans who assisted British forces to build a life in safety and security. Instead, many who have made the dangerous trip from Afghanistan to Britain have been told they face deportation.
One pilot who served with distinction fled Afghanistan even as his wife and young family stayed behind, arriving in Britain in a small boat because there was no safe and legal route to escape the Taliban, since British and Nato forces left him and his squadron behind. Now he has been told by UK authorities that he faces being sent to Rwanda under a controversial immigration policy.
“Everyone knew that one day the American and British armies would leave as they had supported us for a long time. But when the withdrawal came, our territorial leaders failed us,” the pilot, who is not named in order to protect his family, told The Independent earlier this year.
The Independent is campaigning for the British government to give a home to those who fought with the UK against the Taliban. It has been backed by politicians of all parties, as well as religious leaders, senior military figures and celebrities including Sting and director Guy Ritchie.
But the United Kingdom is not alone in its failure to fulfil the pledges made to those who assisted the war efforts. Despite broad bipartisan support in both houses of US Congress and from president Joe Biden, Congress has failed to live up to its commitments to Afghans despite supportive rhetoric.
Most Afghans who came to America after the withdrawal of US military forces from the country, arrived on what is called humanitarian parole, wherein people who may be otherwise ineligible for admission into the United States are allowed to enter for humanitarian reasons.
“And those folks have two years of parole, which is about to run out,” Shawn VanDiver, the founder of #AfghanEvac and a US Navy veteran, told The Independent. “The issue with the parolees is that for every other population, where there's been a big influx like this, Congress has passed Adjustment of Status.”
Adjustment of Status would allow people who were given humanitarian parole to adjust their status to that of a permanent resident. In the months following the collapse of the Afghan government and more Afghans entering the United States, a bipartisan group led by Democratic senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota sponsored the Afghan Adjustment Act.
“It’s strongly supported by veterans [so] it should be must pass,” senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, told The Independent. “But there are all kinds of time pressures, a lot of competing issues.”
Those competing interests meant the bill was not included in must-pass legislation like last year’s omnibus spending bill, the National Defense Authorisation Act, and an aid package to Ukraine, which means that many of the people given humanitarian parole risk losing their status by August, which marks two years since the Taliban took control in Afghanistan.
Democratic representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York told The Independent that the United States has had a double standard when it comes to Afghanistan and other nations enduring conflict.
“I feel like we saw even in the outbreak of Ukraine, the difference between how things were expedited depending on country of origin,” she said. “And I believe that translators and many folks ... we should be really filling up the visa allotments that we have, and we have not yet.”
Mr VanDiver explained that the Trump administration weakened parts of the immigration system like Special Immigrant Visas and created massive backlogs by weakening the resettlement programmes.
“The impact that Afghans are feeling right now can be attributed to Stephen Miller and Donald Trump, the way that they purposely deconstructed the system for welcoming vulnerable people into our country and cares for their inaction,” he said.
The legislation would need to pass through the judiciary committees in the US House and Senate. Senator Chuck Grassley, who last year served as the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, opposed the legislation. Mr Grassley told The Independent that at the time he led the GOP on the committee, he was speaking for the concerns of other Republican senators.
“I think it would be based on this issue of vetting,” he said. “I think that’s very important. You know, when we have 98 people across the border that haven’t been vetted and they’re on the terrorist watch list, I think we have to be very careful.”
Since then, senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the co-sponsors of the Afghan Adjustment Act, has stepped up to ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He said lawmakers may act on the Afghan Adjustment Act towards the end of the year when Congress must fund the government.
“I think it’s important we keep our commitment to those who helped us in Afghanistan,” Mr Graham told The Independent, adding that he is not concerned about missing the August deadline.
“I just want to try to rally the House and Senate around the concept that we need to do better, and that's very important,” he said.
Since 2022, Republicans have taken control of the House of Representatives, making it much harder to pass the legislation in the era of hyper-polarised government. While Mr Graham is the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, representative Jim Jordan, a hardliner on immigration, now leads the House Judiciary Committee, making it even tougher for the bill to pass.
“But that's okay,” Mr VanDiver said. “So long as we could get [house majority leader Steve] Scalise and [house speaker Kevin] McCarthy to be supportive, then we could do it.”
Until then, Mr VanDiver has helped launch an Afghanistan Community Ambassadors Programme so any Afghan in the United States can sign up and get direct information about immigration.
“It’s meant to ensure that every Afghan here has access to the same information,” he said. “So it’s not like you have to know somebody.”