Thus far, as of December 20, 2022, the United States Congress has not included legislation for the Afghan Adjustment Act in the FY2023 Omnibus Appropriations. This Congressional failure is an affront to the U.S. veterans who served in Afghanistan, a disservice to those at-risk Afghans who fought alongside U.S. troops, and to those Afghans that the United States military evacuated and eventually resettled in communities across the United States. The opportunity to pass the AAA has drastically narrowed and relies on the floor amendment process for any chance of being included in the Omnibus. This will take place over the next few days.
Afghans who were evacuated from Kabul airport in August 2021 on military aircraft and later flown to the United States by aircraft chartered by the U.S. government have been screened, vetted, processed, and resettled in towns and cities across the country. They were admitted under humanitarian parole and have legal protection for a maximum of two years – which is set to expire in the the fall of 2023. The Afghan evacuees can pursue a long-term permanent status through the asylum system or, if they qualify, the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. However, both options are experiencing long processing times measured in years, a severe shortage of legal resources to assist the evacuees, and other obstacles.
The Afghan Adjustment Act would alleviate these circumstances and provide an opportunity for the Afghans to pursue a legal status in the U.S. They would then be able to get on with their lives – working, finding adequate housing, pursuing educational opportunities, and fully integrating into American society. The AAA would let the refugees apply for permanent residency status in the U.S., allow them to avoid deportation back to Afghanistan, and let them keep their employment and health care benefits. The Afghan refugees currently face serious issues with housing, employment, financial obstacles, food insecurity, and more.
Concerns about vetting have been held out by opponents of the AAA; however, the opponents are missing the point. The AAA legislation is an opportunity to re-vet every single Afghan who would apply for legal permanent resident (Green Card) status. Those that oppose the AAA are defeating an opportunity to ensure immediate vetting and screening of these Afghans – instead, relying on an asylum process that will take years to complete.
One of the provisions of the AAA is to provide an opportunity for members of Afghan special operations units, Afghan Air Force, Special Mission Wing, and Female Tactical Platoon members to apply for Special Immigrant Status. These units were at the forefront of the offensive operations by the Afghan security forces against the Taliban. Although a small fraction of the Afghan military establishment, these elite units conducted over 70% of the offensive operations. The Taliban, before and after their seizure of power in August 2021, have been tracking down these former members of the elite Afghan units and subjecting them to interrogations, torture, imprisonment, and death.
The Afghanistan Adjustment Act has strong support within the U.S. veteran community. Many veterans service organizations like the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) have endorsed the Afghan Adjustment Act. On December 18, 2022, these organizations sent a letter to the leaders of Congress asking that the AAA be included in the Omnibus spending package for 2023.
Former flag officers also sent a letter to Congress asking them to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act. Thirty retired senior generals and admirals signed the request on December 17, 2022 for the legislation that would help Afghan refugees more easily become permanent residents. In the letter they stated that the AAA furthers the national security interests of the United States and is a moral imperative.
A group of eight retired Ambassadors, all of whom served as Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan sent a letter to Congress on December 14, 2022 expressing their support for the Afghan Adjustment Act. In the letter they stated that the AAA would further America’s interests in the world, prioritizes national security with the strictest security vetting in our immigration system for Afghans, removes red tape, helps national security, and streamlines processes in the immigration system for Afghans.
The U.S. Congress is failing veterans, current members of the military, at-risk Afghans who risked their lives to assist the U.S. military in Afghanistan, and others. There is still a chance to avoid a disappointing outcome. The next step for advocates of the Afghan Adjustment Act is a call for Senator Schumer to bring the AAA to the floor as an amendment to the FY2023 Omnibus Appropriations bill.
Photo: Afghans entering the U.S. Embassy in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in preparation for interviews with consular officials prior to being accepted for entrance to the United States. Photo posted on Twitter, Feb 3, US Mission to UAE.