More than half the Senate urges Biden to speed up evacuation of Afghans who helped US troops

More than half of the entire US Senate is calling on President Joe Biden to ‘immediately evacuate’ thousands of Afghan nationals who applied for Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) because of the ‘increased danger at the hands of the Taliban’ after they took over Afghanistan. 

A group of 55 senators signed onto a letter to the president Thursday urging the ‘immediate and full implementation’ of legislation recently passed by Congress aimed at widening the path for Afghans who worked with US entities to flee the country.

‘The Taliban’s rapid ascendancy across Afghanistan and takeover of Kabul should not cause is to break our promise to the Afghans,’ lawmakers write. 

‘American inaction would ensure they become refugees or prime targets for Taliban retribution.’ 

The bipartisan letter is spearheaded by Democrat Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Senator Joni Ernst.

Jeanne Shaheen and progressive Raphael Warnock are also pushing Biden to help the Afghan translators

The letter, spearheaded by Senators Joni Ernst and Jeanne Shaheen, has 55 bipartisan signatures that also include Lindsey Graham and Raphael Warnock

Others who have signed on include Sens Mitt Romney, Tammy Duckworth, Raphael Warnock, Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham, Cory Booker, Joe Manchin, Elizabeth Warren, John Cornyn, Dianne Feinstein and Bernie Sanders. 

Measures expanding the number of SIVs available and lowering requirements for who can apply passed both houses of Congress in late July. 

At the time the Taliban was steadily gaining ground as the US military presence was winding down for Biden’s August 31st deadline for a full withdrawal. However the Taliban took Kabul on Sunday, surprising US intelligence and sending American and NATO forces into a hasty and chaotic withdrawal.

The Taliban’s lightning offensive spanned roughly a week after 20 years of US occupation and $83 billion spent.

‘At every step of the way, our mission was supported by Afghans who fought alongside us for a better future for their country,’ the letter states.

‘With the departure of US forces and Taliban rule in place, the safety and security of our Afghan allies who put their lives on the line to help our service members and diplomats must be a top priority.’

The senators credit Biden for evacuating 2,000 Afghans under Operation Allies Refuge but urge him to do more amid the worsening situation

The senators credit Biden for evacuating 2,000 Afghans under Operation Allies Refuge but urge him to do more amid the worsening situation

Since 2014 the US allocated 34,500 special immigrant visas, including the 8,000 recent authorized by Congress. 

There were 18,000 Afghan translators and 53,000 family members in the visa backlog earlier this year, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The application process takes roughly two years.

More than 300 interpreters and their families have been killed since 2001, according to No One Left Behind, and recent reports out of parts of Afghanistan reflect brutal treatment for some identified as having worked with the US.

The State Department approved less than 2,000 SIVs in fiscal year 2020, down from roughly 9,700 the year before.  

The letter lauds Biden for launching Operation Allies Refuge, which brought 2,000 Afghans including translators and their families to the US last month.

Afghan people sit inside a US military aircraft to leave Afghanistan, at the military airport in Kabul on August 19th

Afghan people sit inside a US military aircraft to leave Afghanistan, at the military airport in Kabul on August 19th

Afghans wait to board a US military evacuation flight. The bipartisan letter to Biden urges him to concentrate Defense and State Department efforts to coordinate flights out of Kabul

Afghans wait to board a US military evacuation flight. The bipartisan letter to Biden urges him to concentrate Defense and State Department efforts to coordinate flights out of Kabul

However the senators are asking him to go further, namely on coordinating efforts between the Defense and State Departments to ramp up evacuations with existing military flights and the resumption of commercial and charter flights as well. 

They also ask Biden to consider Afghans who had to flee under such dire circumstances that they left crucial documents behind.  

‘We also urge your Administration to assist with the passage of individuals to the airport to safety,’ the lawmakers state. 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Wednesday that US troops won’t leave the airport to go get American citizens or others trapped elsewhere, stating the military doesn’t have the ‘capability to go out and collect up large numbers of people.’ 

The situation outside of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul has been rapidly deteriorating. 

The last NATO stronghold in the country, Taliban leaders promised the international community they would allow safe passage for anyone trying to flee.

Taliban patrol as nation celebrate the 102nd Independence Day in Kandahar, Afghanistan on August 19th

Taliban patrol as nation celebrate the 102nd Independence Day in Kandahar, Afghanistan on August 19th

A group of Taliban fighters patrols in Kandahar as the US and NATO scramble to evacuate their forces

A group of Taliban fighters patrols in Kandahar as the US and NATO scramble to evacuate their forces

But fighters guarding the streets around the airport have been reportedly turning westerners away in some cases and used violence to disperse Afghan civilians attempting to get in. 

Suggestions to speed up the process from the bipartisan lawmakers include updating ‘internal and external guidance’ to reduce the employment requirement from two years with US entities to just one.

They also call on the administration to bypass the application’s federally mandated medical exam, allow a straightforward appeal process for denied applicants and prioritize applications based on date.

Bearing in mind that many Afghans in a critical situation won’t have access to legal aid to navigate the extensive application, the senators ask that all changes that impact visa applicants ‘must be communicated directly’ to them. 

‘Anything short of full implementation results in grave security implications,’ the senators warn. ‘You have the strong support of both chambers of Congress to ensure that no additional Afghan lives are needlessly lost.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk