Afghan refugees arrive at Dulles International Airport on August 27, 2021, in Dulles, Virginia, after being evacuated from Kabul following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Photo by Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images.
Lawmakers appear to have passed over a bill that would have provided permanent legal residency to Afghans already in the US, including members of Afghanistan National Army Special Operations Command and flying units.
However, Congress plans to extend a separate program that provides Afghans who worked with the US during the Global War on Terror with permanent legal residency.
Veterans and Afghan activists had hoped Congress would renew both the Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV, program and pass the Afghan Adjustment Act in a massive spending plan due this week known as an omnibus bill.
But while the SIV language made the cut, the Afghan Adjustment Act seems to have been left out.
Jeff Phaneuf, the director of advocacy for No One Left Behind, told Coffee or Die Magazine that extending the SIV program was at least a partial victory.
“The House version still needs to be approved by the House, and then the Congress needs to vote on it and approve the entire omnibus,” Phaneuf said. “But the fact that it was included in the Senate version, from our perspective, is a very likely sign that it will be passed in the final bill.”
The $1.7 trillion omnibus appropriations bill funds the annual operations of federal agencies. To avoid a government shutdown, Congress must pass the bill by Friday, Dec. 23.
The SIV program provides a path to citizenship to Afghans and Iraqis who worked with the US during the GWOT. Though thousands have reached the US under SIV status, thousands more remain in Afghanistan, working through the program’s mandatory paperwork.
The AAA would have provided a path to permanent legal residency in the US for Afghans who fled to the US during the 2021 withdrawal but aren’t eligible for asylum or the SIV program.
A plane flies over a temporary camp for refugees from Afghanistan at the US Army's Rhine Ordnance Barracks, where they are being temporarily housed, on Aug. 30, 2021, in Kaiserslautern, Germany. Photo by Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images.
That includes Afghans now in the US on humanitarian status, members of the female tactical teams of Afghanistan, the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command, the Afghan Air Force, and the Special Mission Wing of Afghanistan.
“They tried to get included in the omnibus bill as part of that larger legislative vehicle,” Phaneuf said, “but in sort of the Senate negotiations over the bill, it does appear that it was struck from the omnibus.”
The omnibus bill was considered a “last chance” for both the SIV extension and the Afghan Adjustment Act to become law in the current Congress. Earlier in December, the Senate nixed the SIV extension from the National Defense Authorization Act, where the program had previously been renewed.
The Afghan Adjustment Act received nearly universal support from veterans organizations.
Last week, a group of more than 30 retired military officials, including former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a supreme allied commander of NATO, called on senior politicians to include the AAA in the omnibus appropriations bill.
“We are convinced that the Afghan Adjustment Act furthers the national security interests of the United States,” the retired military officials wrote in a Dec. 17 letter. “It is also a moral imperative.”
The letter was organized by #AfghanEvac, a coalition supporting Afghan resettlement efforts.
“If Congress fails to enact the AAA, the United States will be less secure,” the officials wrote. “As military professionals, it was and remains our duty to prepare for future conflicts. We assure you that in any such conflict, potential allies will remember what happens now with our Afghan allies.”
Jenna Biter is a staff writer at Coffee or Die Magazine. She has a master’s degree in national security and is a Russian language student. When she’s not writing, Jenna can be found reading classics, running, or learning new things, like the constellations in the night sky. Her husband is on active duty in the US military. Know a good story about national security or the military? Email Jenna.
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