Amid an uncertain political and military situation in Afghanistan, the Senate is soon to take up its version of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and with it an emerging controversy over extension and expansion of the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program.
At stake is the fate of thousands of Afghani citizens who assisted American military and diplomatic personnel during operations in the country after 2001. Many live in fear of their lives for aiding the United States.
Approximately 10,000 Afghanis seeking to enter the United States under the Special Immigrant Visa program have applied for the remaining 3,500 visas available until September 2016.
Up from a ceiling of 1,500 in 2009, the visa program slowly expanded to 4,000 authorized permits in 2014 to 7,000 sanctioned for fiscal 2016.
The House version of the 2017 NDAA extends the program; however, the House Armed Services Committee tightened restrictions on eligibility for the visa and did not approve further visas for the coming fiscal year.
The matter at hand has cast aside the iron laws of partisan behavior often dominating both chambers of Congress and unified Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) in opposition to Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).
Armed Services Committee members McCain and Shaheen favor a surge in visas for Afghanis wishing to immigrate to the United States and the two have proposed an additional 4,000 visas to the NDAA for 2017.
“Our nation has a moral obligation to protect those Afghans whose lives are in imminent danger today because they supported American troops and diplomats,” Senator McCain said in a statement.
In contrast, Grassley and Sessions are urging caution; additionally, Mr. Sessions has mentioned the cost of further visas, estimated in the hundreds of millions over 10 years, and stated some applicants may not be deserving of consideration.
“We just need to be careful about this. Just because you’ve got applicants doesn’t mean every one of them is deserving of acceptance,” Sessions told the Washington Post on May 25.
For one author and social activist, Matt Zellner, this has become a deeply personal issue: Zellner, a former infantry officer and combat veteran of the war in Afghanistan, is the founder of the non-profit No One Left Behind, which raises money for and mobilizes on behalf of Afghanis and Iraqis who assisted Americans during the wars in the Middle East.
During a firefight in Afghanistan in 2008, Zellner’s Afghani translator, Janis Shinwari, killed two Taliban terrorists attempting to assault Zellner’s position. Following Zellner’s return home, his advocacy won Shinwari’s right to leave Afghanistan and re-settle in the United States.
“They execute them and basically make snuff films out of their death. They get them to essentially confess to their crimes and then they cut them apart, piece by piece of their body,” Zellner said, describing the fate of some who fall into the hands of Taliban terrorists.
This wrangling over SIVs for Afghans in the employ of the U.S. government evokes memories of the final chapter in America’s brawl against communism in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and it appears as if the United States has learned nothing from the pile of bodies scattered over the Indochinese countryside following the Red takeover in Sai-gon, Phnom Penh, and Vientiane.
Slow to accept the eventual communist domination of the region, the U.S. organized a hasty evacuation from Phnom Penh and Sai-gon, but left a majority of Laotians true to Washington to fend for themselves.
In Phnom Penh and Sai-gon, the U.S. was able to facilitate the escape of thousands through a massive airlift; however, the swift advance of communist forces descending on each capital city forced tens of thousands of Vietnamese and Cambodians who had faithfully served the American cause to fall into the hands of the killers who took over following the American withdrawal.
At particular risk were the Hmong in Laos and the Montagnards in South Vietnam’s Central Highlands; both groups were passionate foes of communism and fierce fighters alongside their American allies.
Living under the heel of communism, Vietnamese who were not summarily executed by the new communist overlords were herded into “political re-education camps” where untold numbers perished. Those who did survive toiled for years in filthy disease-ridden camps and upon release immediately sought refuge in the United States.
In neighboring Cambodia, the bloodletting was unimaginable: Unlike what occurred in South Vietnam, the Khmer Rouge did not discriminate and over 2,000,000 were exterminated in a fit of cruelty by the sadistic ogres who inherited Phnom Penh.
Why there does not exist a solid consensus on this matter is a complete mystery.
Opponents of the effort to extend and expand the Special Immigrant Visa program are confusing Afghani and Iraqis who worked jointly with Americans with Syrian refugees desperate to flee ISIS brutality. While there exists a legitimate concern for the possibility of ISIS infiltration among Syrian refugees, given the familiarity Americans have with Afghanis and Iraqis seeking visas, Mr. Sessions view is patent nonsense and those who agree with him are offering an unsupportable argument over proper vetting.
The lives of many faithful Afghani and Iraqi men, women and their families are imperiled because of their loyalty to and affection for the U.S. Devoted to democracy and opposed to Taliban terror, the United States government is obligated to honor them for their commitment to the American mission to crush the wickedness of a shared enemy.
For the sake of those who cooperated with and provided a vital function for American personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in order to prevent those who assisted America from falling into the hands of rulers who do as they please, Congress has a moral duty to distribute these crucial visas to those in want.
America cannot afford to become an unreliable ally again.
[The Hill] [nooneleft.org] [Washington Post] [Photo courtesy of yourimmigrationangel.com]