A major bill that would provide a pathway to permanent residency for tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees has not yet drawn enough support to pass Congress, but lawmakers Tuesday proposed 4,000 additional visas for Afghans.
"While I'm frustrated that partisan obstruction necessitated an eleventh-hour solution, I'm relieved that we have a deal to extend the authorization of the Afghan SIV program and that this bill provides an additional 4,000 visas," Democratic Senator Jean Shaheen, a leading proponent for Afghan evacuees, said in a statement Tuesday.
An estimated 80,000 Afghans fled the country during the chaotic U.S. military exit from Afghanistan in August of 2021. Many were eligible for SIV (Special Immigrant Visas) for their work for the United States but were unable to obtain legal permission to come to the U.S. through the famously complicated and slow system. Instead, they were granted a two-year temporary "humanitarian parole." If passed, the AAA would have provided Afghan evacuees with a pathway to permanent residency in the United States before that humanitarian parole expires.
The AAA had broad support among Senate Democrats and some Republicans.
"Our bipartisan bill fulfills a moral obligation to the men and women who sacrificed in support of the U.S. mission helping American troops and diplomats. These Afghan allies worked as journalists, translators, non-profit workers, guards, and interpreters – as well as other dangerous professions that put their and their families' lives on the line. This effort is urgent as their situation is increasingly desperate. These at-risk Afghans deserve a clear path to citizenship," said Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal when the legislation was introduced back in August.
In a letter to congressional leaders first obtained by American news network CNN this past weekend, two dozen former U.S. military leaders said a failure to pass the AAA would make the United States "less secure. 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."
But the legislation failed to secure the support of 10 Republican senators necessary for Senate passage.
Senator Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and others object to the legislation on security grounds. In September, the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General found the U.S. may have admitted Afghan nationals who were not sufficiently screened.
"Yet again, another independent watchdog confirms that the vetting of those admitted to the United States in the wake of President Biden's disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan has been completely insufficient," Grassley said in a statement on the report.
Incoming House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul and House Oversight Chairman James Comer, both Republicans, have pledged to conduct investigations into the Biden administration's handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal and the failure to provide Afghans with SIVs.
"Urgent action by Secretary [Antony] Blinken and President [Joe] Biden to fix the significant problems inside the SIV program is necessary and long overdue. The United States pledged to support those who bravely fought alongside our troops, risking their lives for our country. We owe the thousands of qualified Afghan SIV applicants shamefully left behind in the wake of the Biden administration's chaotic and haphazard withdrawal to fulfill our promise to grant them a way out of Afghanistan and to freedom in the U.S," McCaul said in an Oct. 27, 2022, statement.
McCaul told American news publication The New Republic earlier this year he was still reviewing the text of the AAA.
The failure to include the AAA in this year's government spending bill almost guarantees it will not pass the U.S. House of Representatives in its current form when Republicans assume the majority in the new Congress next month. Tens of thousands of Afghans face the prospect of returning to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan when their parole expires in 2023.