Senators introduce bill to improve visa program to protect Afghan interpreters who helped US | CNN Politics


A bipartisan group of senators has launched laws aimed toward enhancing the Afghan particular immigrant visa (SIV) program amid a rising push from lawmakers, veterans and advocates to make sure that Afghan interpreters and others who helped the United States are protected as soon as US troops absolutely withdraw from Afghanistan.

The bill launched Thursday by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, Dick Durbin, Joni Ernst, and Roger Wicker would develop the variety of approved visas by 20,000 and revise a number of the eligibility necessities for the program.

Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, famous that the SIV program is in want of “serious improvements” so as to “uphold the integrity and improve (its) efficiency.”

“Increasing the number of authorized visas and removing cumbersome requirements that leave folks in limbo are essential to provide for those who’ve worked alongside our troops,” she mentioned.

US Central Command mentioned this week that the withdrawal of US troops and navy tools from Afghanistan is “greater than 50%” full. Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, famous in an announcement that “Afghan citizens who have supported the US are more at risk than ever from the Taliban and other violent individuals who may seek retribution” because the US withdraws from the nation.

“This legislation would make important updates to the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program to help more vulnerable aides and their families escape before it is too late,” he mentioned. “The US owes these courageous men and women a debt of gratitude – we cannot leave them behind.”

“We must fulfill our commitment to those who put themselves in harms’ way by ensuring that this program has the capacity to fully process and help bring these individuals to safety, and that’s what I’m working with Democrats and Republicans to do,” Ernst, an Iowa Republican, mentioned.

The new laws proposes decreasing the eligibility requirement for candidates from two years to one 12 months of service and suspending the medical analysis requirement till the applicant and their relations are within the United States. It would additionally take away the necessity for candidates to receive a sworn assertion testifying to the menace they face and would additionally take away the requirement that these who have been employed by the International Security Assistance Force and Resolute Support carried out “sensitive and trusted” actions.

The laws would additionally prolong particular immigrant standing to sure spouses and youngsters of candidates who have been murdered.

“In acknowledgment of the threats they face in aiding the US, we must extend and expand the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program in order to ensure their safety and the safety of their families,” mentioned Durbin, an Illinois Democrat.

A Senate aide instructed CNN that the Biden administration is conscious of the bill. It’s hoped that if handed, the administration would implement the adjustments to the SIV program instantly.

The lawmakers are pushing for a markup as quickly as potential, and are taking a look at placing components of the bill in different items of laws which can be transferring by means of the Congress, such because the NDAA, the aide mentioned. They are conscious that the laws will not be handed prior to the US withdrawal.

With the fast tempo of withdrawal, the Biden administration is going through rising strain to take concrete steps to guarantee the protection of the Afghans who helped the US in its practically 20 years of navy involvement in Afghanistan.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price mentioned final week that the division had elevated employees in Washington to course of Afghan SIV purposes and has “approved a temporary increase in consular staffing in our embassy in Kabul to conduct interviews and to process visa applications.” However, the US Embassy in Kabul introduced Friday it’s suspending all visa operations efficient Sunday due to a Covid outbreak in Afghanistan. Principal Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter mentioned Friday that purposes on the “Chief of Mission” stage would proceed to be processed in Washington, DC.

Matt Zeller, a US veteran who served in Afghanistan and a fellow on the Truman Center for National Security, mentioned there’s an immense quantity of concern on the bottom amongst these who helped the US that when overseas forces go away the nation, they are going to be focused and killed by the Taliban. Zeller instructed CNN that he additionally worries the administration thinks it has extra time to determine an answer than it does.

“My fear is that they don’t get how little time we have left, they think they have way more time and they think that the SIV program is sufficient to get this done,” he mentioned.

Last week, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers from the Honoring Our Promises Working Group known as on President Joe Biden to undertake a right away evacuation.

The Senate aide instructed CNN that whereas the brand new laws doesn’t take care of the potential for an evacuation, it may very well be used at the side of one.

The House lawmakers of their letter final week known as on the administration to “establish a President’s Interagency Task Force responsible for the visa management and evacuation of our Afghan allies before our withdrawal from the country,” and steered it particularly take a look at Guam as a possible evacuation website.

Camille Mackler, an immigration lawyer and Senior Visiting Fellow on Immigration on the Truman Center for National Security, instructed CNN that “evacuation is the only possibility at this point given the timeframe.” She famous that evacuation to a US-held territory is the most suitable choice.

“If we wanted to wait for everyone to go through the visa process, even with sort of a surge of resources into the processing of the visas, given everything else that is going on and the way that the immigration system works, we’d be talking about months if not years to get through the backlog,” she mentioned.

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