Immediate action is needed to aid Afghans who put their lives on the line for Americans
In this handout image provided by the Bundeswehr, evacuees from Kabul sit inside a military aircraft as they arrive at Tashkent Airport on Aug. 22, 2021 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. (Handout/Bundeswehr via Getty Images)
More than a year ago, as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, I concluded 27 years of uniformed service. I spent more than a year of my life in Afghanistan, serving in special operations, a fact only relevant because it brought me into close contact with members of the Afghan National Security Forces and Afghan civilian interpreters.
Much has been made of the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) process and the many stunning failures in its management. Those failures are at the center of a book I co-wrote with Afghan Interpreter Zainullah Zaki and U.S. Marine Major Thomas Schueman, “Always Faithful: A Story of War in Afghanistan, the Fall of Kabul, and the Unshakable Bond Between a Marine and an Interpreter. “But for all the failures in the execution of the now 16-year-old SIV legislation, there is at least a path to permanent resident status for Afghans who entered the U.S. under its auspices, however obstacle strewn that path may be.
Because of the complexities of our immigration laws, however, there has not been a similar path for the tens of thousands of Afghans brought to the United States under humanitarian parole amidst the shameful maelstrom that was our August 2021 run for the exit in Kabul. I spent most of that month helping to evacuate our Afghan allies, along with thousands of military and intelligence community veterans and citizen volunteers. We were united by a fundamental belief in the moral obligation to aid the people who trusted us enough to fight beside and for us. That simple belief should be mirrored by a simple path forward for Afghan parolees; a legislative vehicle to give them the certainty of a chance at the basics of a good life. The Afghan Adjustment Act (“AAA”), H.R.8685/S.4787, could be just that vehicle.
The AAA is bipartisan, bicameral legislation, introduced in early August 2022. The AAA ensures that Afghans paroled into the U.S. via Operation Allies Welcome may apply to stay here long-term with a direct pathway to permanent resident status. The House bill currently has 129 sponsors and cosponsors, with more in the Senate. That’s a good start, but American citizens need to register their support for the AAA with their representatives. It’s a matter of erasing a stain on our national honor.
Some may argue that, while SIV applicants met the obligation of at least one year of employment, “By, or on behalf of, the U.S. government [or] by the [International Security Assistance Force] or a successor mission in a capacity that required serving with US military personnel,” humanitarian parole recipients did not; that they were simply Afghans fighting for Afghanistan. That argument fails, however, for lack of nuance — a tragic trend in an America where we have access to more knowledge than any time in history, but often eschew the obligation to use it to achieve deeper understanding of an issue.
The Afghan nationals I know served in the Commando Kandaks and the various special mission units established by U.S. forces expressly to support our own goals. They fought with us. But in truth, they fought for us. Perhaps it’s a fact hard to understand from a cable pundit’s desk, but as a senior Special Forces officer and friend said to me, “They were often working off OUR target lists in support of U.S. objectives.” Then in August 2021, I watched helplessly, safe in my home in North Carolina, as many of them were turned back at the gates of Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA). The best we could do was tell our compatriots to run for another country. Of those unable to do so, those not killed outright are now in hiding, hunted by the Taliban regime.
For those who worry that those admitted could pose “security” issues, the AAA will require every applicant to undergo additional, rigorous vetting equivalent to the security screening they would have experienced if admitted as refugees. It is a significant, appropriate step. But Americans are not a people driven by fear. We are a nation built upon ideals of liberty and equality. It’s a belief that established precedent for the AAA in similar instances.
After failures in Cuba and Vietnam and the ongoing “I guess we’ll see” in Iraq, we’ve passed similar legislation, a recognition that our international reputation for fidelity is a national security issue. In this hyper-connected world, we need allies who believe we are who we say we are. Our record on that is mixed, a fact made more frustrating by the fact that it is the people who have carried the fight to implement American national security policy, rather than its political designers, who have most often been left to clean up the wreckage in its wake. Fulfilling obligations to those allies most loyal to our efforts is part of that. It is an obligation of every American citizen, regardless of political persuasion. If our shared humanity, and the bonds born in battle, are insufficient to merit a chance at “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” I fear for our future as the nation envisioned by the people who first signed on to the notion.
This commentary was published in NC Policy Watch.
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Russell Worth Parker