During the last days of the Vietnam war, United States evacuated more than 7,000 Vietnamese allies, who had supported the U.S. military operations to safety, initially to Guam and then onto the U.S. mainland. Another 100,000 Vietnamese made it to the U.S. at later dates. Characteristically, America never hesitated to give refuge to friends who had risked their lives to support the mission as it was outlined by the United States military. And while it was the right thing to do, it also helped establish strong communities here in America. In less than 4 decades, wonderful things have been accomplished here in California alone by the Vietnamese communities in San Jose, Garden Grove, and San Diego.
Today, halfway around the world, we are now in somewhat of a similar situation. The last days of the war in Afghanistan approach and the U.S. is in the final stages of ending its military mission. President Biden announced last week that we are in fact ahead of schedule in leaving the war-torn country and that the final troop pull-out will be done in a matter of weeks and not by 9/11 as previously planned.
During the active phase of the war, the U.S. employed thousands of Afghan citizens as translators, guides, and cultural advisors to assist in the military operations. These brave Afghans, literally put their lives at risk because they believed in the American cause. According to Representative Michael Waltz of Florida who fought in Afghanistan, the Taliban has already murdered thousands of these Afghan translators because they chose to support the U.S. side. Waltz says thousands more are in immediate danger of slaughter if they are not evacuated. The tension in Afghanistan between its government, Afghan allies of the U.S., and the Taliban is so high that General Scott Miller, the high U.S. commander in Afghanistan predicts a high possibility of a civil war upon the U.S.’s complete departure. Former Army Major Matt Zeller stated military evacuation is the only viable option to realistically assist the Afghan allies to safety. The rush to evacuate American troops out of Afghanistan leaves Afghan allies susceptible to revenge attacks.
Congress has created the mechanism of the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) for these types of circumstances. However, the processing time for issuing these visas is extremely long which makes its practicality marginal under the best of circumstances. For example, during the past 6 years, the U.S. has only issued 26,500 SIV’s to Afghans. In an environment of a rapid military evacuation, where the enemy is fast approaching, these processing times are simply unworkable.
The White House indicated in June 2021, that it would relocate between 20,000 and 100,000 Afghans before the troops leave. With President Biden announcing that troops would leave earlier than planned, there is no time for these visas to be processed in regular order.
The latest information is that the administration will begin moving some 700 people along with their family members to Virginia, according to Politico. But that is for those who are pretty far along in the visa process. What about those who aren’t? Among the locations for evacuation, the administration is debating third countries or U.S. territories like Guam. This situation in Afghanistan presents a human rights emergency that requires immediate evacuation that was once afforded to Vietnamese allies after the Vietnam war and the Iraqi Kurds escaping persecution in the 1990s.
Partners like Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) have been leading the efforts to get the evacuations completed in time to save lives. This administration needs to evacuate the translators to safety and decide policy once they are out of immediate harm’s way. Unless we move past the prolonged debate about logistics, and cut through this unnecessary red tape, far more Afghan allies who protected and assisted the United States against the Taliban will be killed. We need to move them now.