Afghan linguists deserve U.S. visas
The War in Afghanistan is not ending. It’s not closing up shop like a store gone out of business. It’s not being put out to pasture like an old war horse. Not for the Afghan people.
This is evident to the Afghan government, which has been in a precarious position since this summer’s contested and disputed elections. Those elections led to an agreement facilitated by Secretary of State John Kerry for a recount and a coalition government.
Amidst the rising tension and violence of the past two years, Afghan interpreters, who played a key role in helping U.S. forces since 2001, have had to endure a surge of revenge attacks targeting them and their families. Without a status of forces agreement that helps coordinate and gives support to the Afghan National Security Forces, both Afghan civilians and government personnel will come under increased pressure by the insurgency’s attempt to reassert itself.
Afghan interpreters were subject to a rigorous screening process and placed in a position where they honorably gained the trust of their American comrades, and they are now being harassed, threatened and killed by those who see them as traitors. Recent reports done by VICE News and other media outlets, such as the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, have documented the experience of some former interpreters and their struggles for survival as NATO and U.S. Forces prepare to leave Afghanistan. Many have been killed and tortured, along with their family members.
Others, fleeing death threats, are in hiding away from their families in Afghanistan or are trying to obtain the absurd amounts of money needed to be smuggled out. Those who succeed in finding the money to pay a smuggler are usually transported to countries like Turkey, Greece and Italy in horrid conditions. Once they’ve arrived, they find themselves trapped in legal limbo, living on the margins of their new societies.
These men served bravely alongside U.S. and NATO forces, often risking their lives and investing themselves in the mission to secure their country. The recent investigations of the Veterans Administration have led to a national discussion about the debts of war. But with the discussion of our debts to our own veterans come questions about what we owe to those who served and sided with us against their own neighbors and countrymen. It should not be a difficult question. If aiding an American war effort puts an Afghan citizen’s life in danger, the least that the U.S. can do in return is process their visa application.
Instead, many of these interpreters have been finding their applications in a state of permanent delay, despite the extensive documentation they possess as a result of their service. The limitations placed by law on the number of visas available have been getting in the way. Congress has attempted to remedy this shortage by passing legislation earlier this month extending the number of visas by an additional 1,000, but too many will still be left behind.
For a country that dually prides itself on its treatment of those who have served in the military and on its acceptance of immigrants from around the world, this problem is a true embarrassment. In this case, we have abandoned both our promise to “leave no man behind” and our obligation to accept the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Follow Abe Jimenez @A_Ximenez