The country’s annual defense spending measure was narrowly approved by the Republican-led House of Representatives on Friday, and although the bill is several steps from becoming law, the White House has announced its opposition to a range of national security provisions, including inaction on the special immigrant visas (SIV) for Afghans.
The House version of the National Defense Authorization Act does not increase the SIV cap by 20,000 in fiscal 2024 or extend the SIV program beyond December 31, 2024, despite the administration’s request to do so.
In 2009, the Afghan Allies Protection Act was approved by Congress, leading to the implementation of the Afghan SIV program — an immigrant visa program that helps military interpreters and others who worked for the U.S. government to come to the U.S. with a direct pathway to permanent residency.
Through this program, the U.S. government has successfully resettled more than 100,000 Afghans and their families in the United States. However, if the annual defense policy bill does not include an extension of the program, it would end a legal immigration path to the United States for Afghans who worked for the U.S. government during the war in Afghanistan at the end of 2024.
“Giving our Afghan allies a chance to apply for legal status is the right and necessary thing to do,” U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, said in a statement.
On the same day the House passed its version of the NDAA, a bipartisan group of lawmakers reintroduced the Afghan Adjustment Act (AAA) in the House and the Senate.
It would also expand SIV eligibility to include more Afghans. Women, who served in special counterterrorism teams, and others who worked with U.S. forces as commandos and air force personnel, could be eligible for the SIV program. It would also establish a path to U.S. citizenship for Afghans with humanitarian parole status living in the United States. SIV presently covers translators, interpreters, or other professionals employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government in Afghanistan.
Dara Lind, a senior fellow with the American Immigration Council, wrote Tuesday that the NDAA has become a vehicle “for many other legislative proposals to pass into law.”
“Because the need for the AAA is a direct consequence of the U.S. occupation of (and withdrawal from) Afghanistan, and the Department of Defense has long supported ways for Afghans who assisted the government to become U.S. citizens, including the AAA in the current defense authorization bill is thematically appropriate, to say the least. It’s also, given Congress’ aversion to voting on standalone immigration bills, the most likely way the AAA will pass,” Lind wrote.
In 2022, the AAA also was supported by a group of lawmakers from both parties and expected to be included in the omnibus spending package. But it failed to win congressional approval.
Senator Chuck Grassley, then-ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and others objected to the legislation on security grounds, VOA reported.
Following the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, more than 70,000 Afghans were brought to the United States and granted a temporary humanitarian parole status that lasts for two years.
Humanitarian parole is given to those hoping to enter the U.S. under emergency circumstances. While it does not automatically lead to permanent residency, parolees can apply for legal status through the asylum process or other forms of sponsorship, if available, once they're in the U.S.
But the humanitarian status is only temporary.
U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, a Republican from Kansas, said Afghans who escaped to the U.S., face uncertainty because their original parole statuses are temporary.
“[The AAA] legislation establishes a pathway for our Afghan partners to begin a new life while also establishing a critical vetting process to reduce threats to our national security,” Moran wrote in a statement.
In January, VOA reported that more than 40,000 Afghans living outside the U.S. had submitted humanitarian parole applications since the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Others were allowed to continue their SIV process inside the United States, which leads to a direct pathway to permanent residency.
“Two decades of allyship merits much more than an unnecessary and unsustainable legal limbo. The Afghan Adjustment Act is precisely how we provide the stability our new Afghan neighbors deserve while demonstrating that the United States honors its promises of protection to its allies,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, told reporters.
The Senate has drafted and needs to pass its own version of the NDAA. Once both bills are approved, they will need to be reconciled, and a compromised version will have to be approved once again by the Senate and House.