Tuesday, October 19, 2021
Guest blogger: Sabrina Nassir, law student, University of San Francisco
Twenty years. For twenty years, the United States has engaged in discussions, conflict, war, agreements, and numerous additional interactions with Afghanistan. A country and people still incredibly misunderstood and misrepresented by the American media. For twenty years, they have been portrayed as the “bad guys” or, towards the last decade, a “country dependent on our aid.” However, throughout this tumultuous relationship there has been a constant silver lining, and that is the bonds of comradery, reliance, and affection shared between the U.S. military forces and Afghan’s aiding in the fight to free their lands of tyranny.
The aftermath of 9/11 resulted in swift retaliatory action by the Bush administration. They set their eyes on Afghanistan as misinformation or other agendas guided them to the land that their British forefathers had unsuccessfully attempted to conquer long before. The Taliban is a monster, bred from Pakistan and Saudi training, armed by past U.S. funds and guns, and set loose in Afghanistan, capturing the easily swayed war-torn minds of Afghan nationals lost and seeking to reclaim the country’s former independence. During the first decade of the U.S.’ longest war, the goal was to eradicate the enemy and extract the threat. Once officials realized this is no easy feat and time seemed to push past the bounds of deadlines already set, reliance on the Afghan government and civilians for translation and intel became key for survival.
Despite morphing for public appearance purposes, the second decade’s chapter seemingly worked towards re-establishing democracy while the Taliban was kept at bay. Throughout this time frame, Afghan translators, interpreters, and support personal cooperated with the U.S., at great risk to themselves and the lives of their families, in pursuit of recovering their culture and land from the Taliban. Both the U.S. military and Afghans fought ferociously, bled, and died to prevent an enemy to peace from regaining power. For twenty years there has been a solid reliance, by both sides of this partnership, that if assistance is given to help the U.S. to accomplish their goals, to a threat of their own lives, the U.S. in return will help them acquire Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) for future safety.
Now, regardless of where one falls on the line of whether withdrawal was overdue or the incorrect choice, I’m sure it is not difficult to determine that it was done incorrectly. Pictures of wild desperation and pure chaos following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 following mere months after the U.S withdrawal goes to show no efficient contingency plan was put in place to account for this.
With time of the essence, immigration lawyers, humanitarian groups, and nonprofit orgs are vigorously working to get as many qualifying visa applicants out of the country before the Taliban hunts them down due to their connections with America. Organizations such as No One Left Behind, urge the Biden administration to do more to ensure all Afghan translators who put their lives at risk to help the U.S. are evacuated from the country safely. Established by Army Veteran Matt Zeller and Janis Shinwari, an Afghan translator who killed two Taliban members attempting to take Zeller’s life, this relationship reflects thousands that have been forged and in need of the U.S. governments resources immediately.
Originating in 2008 to assist Afghan and Iraqi translators, SIV’s are one of the most direct pathways for Afghans to acquire visa status in the United States. Direct, yes. Simple, no. According to both the National Immigration Forum and U.S. Dept. of State Consular Affairs, issuance of a SIV only comes after the applicant assembles all the required documents mandated on the forms followed by a screening period. Mind you, to become a translator, these individuals were subject to heavy screening at the outset. At this stage it’s more for procedure than anything else. Additionally, the processing of these applications by the U.S. government, which is supposed to take no more than nine months after a 2013 amendment to the Afghan Allies Protection Act, can actually vary in time, pushing some applicants to wait upwards of five years for approval.
Fortunately, considering recent incidents, the previous cap of fifty SIV applicants in a fiscal year has been expanded to eight thousand as part of the Emergency Security Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021. Moreover, there are other avenues of escape for these refugees. Social activist groups are assisting Afghans gain Humanitarian Parole. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, individuals can enter claiming urgent humanitarian reasons. This path comes with its own unique terrain that asylee’s must traverse but many believe it’s worth the shot.
With tens of thousands still waiting to immigrate to the U.S., one cannot help but wonder what will be the sentiment when arrival finally takes place? Will similar situations mirroring Noor Alocozy’s be the new norm for these refugees? Working as a pizzeria owner, Alocozy was arrested due to “suspicion” with eventually none of the terrorist support allegations set against him bearing any truth. In fact, it was found both he and his wife fled persecution from Afghanistan themselves.
America has and continues to witness how aggressive the anti-muslim fever can be when agitated. With the stigma against Afghanistan already ingrained in certain circles of American society, can these refugees expect a warm welcome? For our country to adopt these migrants while maintaining a semi-stable footing on the social attitude towards these individuals, future policy and legislation should reflect an inclusive attitude where wide-spread programs fit for growth in community and educational opportunities are made available. Now, this is a lofty goal along with all the other pressing issues America has on its agenda, however, it’s not impossible.
If America can gather the lessons it has learned from past immigrant attitude shifts and weave it together with the nation’s modern commitment to multiculturalism, Afghans, who once worked hard to make American’s feel at home in Afghanistan, will be able to assimilate at a pace they are comfortable with here.