Monday, August 2, 2021
President Joe Biden's plans to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan does not initially include a clear procedure to evacuate Afghan interpreters who aided the U.S. war effort and expedite their visas. Leaving behind these interpreters leaves them vulnerable to torture or killing in retaliation for aiding the U.S. For this reason, many qualify for Special Immigrant Visas or would otherwise be classified as refugees.
In a report from Politico, Rep. Jason Crow, who served the US army in Afghanistan, said: “It’s my view that the evacuations should have started right after the announcement of our withdrawal. That evacuation started too late.”
Under continuing criticism from members of Congress in both parties, Biden ordered evacuation flights for 700 applicants and their family members (a total of up to 3,500 people) beginning in August.
For a personal take on the risks faced by military interpreters and the need to assist them with resettlement and integration, see this inspiring TedX talk from Maytham Alshadood, a military interpreter who became a community organizer mobilizing Muslim and Arab refugees to naturalize and vote and who now works for Rep. Crowe. For more general context on noncitizens in the military and the challenges they are facing re-entering American life and obtaining expedited naturalized citizenship, see this GAO report and this symposium essay in the Denver University Law Review. These reports show that, despite the congressional mandate that their SIVs be approved quickly, Afghans have waited years and the delays were exacerbated during the Trump administration.