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Senators ask to include visas for Afghans in spending bill

Senators ask to include visas for Afghans in spending bill

Four senators are pushing appropriators to include visas for Afghans who helped U.S. troops in a spending bill for the State Department as the visa program faces a shortfall.

In a letter released Monday, the senators quoted Defense Secretary James Mattis’s support for the program in arguing for additional visas.

“Keeping our promise to those Afghans who meet the strict qualifications of this program is a strategic imperative as well as a moral one,” they wrote. “During his confirmation process, Secretary Mattis noted that ‘most of our units could not have accomplished their missions without the assistance, often at risk to their lives, of these courageous men and women,’ and he pledged to work to ensure such individuals are not left behind.”

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The letter was sent by Sens. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSenators call for probe into US Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics after abuse scandal Trump officials take heat for declining Russia sanctions Schumer to Trump administration: Who met with Putin's spy chief? MORE (D-N.H.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenate Republicans call on Trump to preserve NAFTA McConnell: Mueller needs 'no protection' from Trump Press: Congress must protect Mueller from Trump MORE (R-N.C.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Raymond ReedWHIP LIST: Shutdown looms as Senate lacks votes to pass House spending bill Senators press Trump to boost school funding in infrastructure package Lawmakers, political figures share their New Year's resolutions for 2018 MORE (D-R.I.) to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranMcConnell urging Mississippi gov to appoint himself if Cochran resigns: report A pro-science approach to Yucca Mountain appropriations Senate Republicans call on Trump to preserve NAFTA MORE (R-Miss.), ranking member Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyCoalition of 44 groups calls for passage of drug pricing bill A pro-science approach to Yucca Mountain appropriations Senate Dems: Trump making negotiations 'impossible' MORE (D-Vt.) and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMcConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Overnight Tech: Uber exec says 'no justification' for covering up hack | Apple considers battery rebates | Regulators talk bitcoin | SpaceX launches world's most powerful rocket Overnight Cybersecurity: Tillerson proposes new cyber bureau at State | Senate bill would clarify cross-border data rules | Uber exec says 'no justification' for covering up breach MORE (R-S.C.), who chairs the committee’s subpanel responsible for the State Department.

Shaheen, Tillis and Reed, along with Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Meghan McCain: Melania is 'my favorite Trump, by far' Kelly says Trump not likely to extend DACA deadline MORE (R-Ariz.), introduced a bill last week that would add 2,500 visas to what’s known as special immigrant visa program.

Last year, the same quartet of senators tried unsuccessfully to add 4,000 visas to the annual defense policy bill. Ultimately, National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed with 1,500 additional visas.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has stopped interviewing applicants for the special immigrant visa program due to a lack of available visas. The State Department has said it doesn't expect to restart interviews until Congress acts.

The program is meant to help Afghans facing threats to their lives for serving as interpreters or otherwise assisting U.S. troops.

As of March 5, just 1,437 visas remain and the number of applicants in the final stage of the process is enough to use all those, the State Department has said.

The program is expected to officially run out of visas by June 1, and more than 15,000 Afghans are at some stage in the application process.

In their letter, the senators asked the appropriators to include 2,500 more visas in the upcoming spending bill. Congress must pass a spending bill to fund the government by the end of April, when a stopgap spending measure expires.

The senators are asking for 2,500, since that would mean 4,000 are visas approved for this year when combined with the 1,500 in the NDAA.

In addition to Mattis’s support, the senators cited Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, who told senators last month that ending the program “would be the wrong message to send our Afghan partners.”

The senators also highlighted that the State Department spending bill the committee passed last year would have included the 4,000 they sought. 

“Given that history and the pressing need for additional visas beyond the 1,500 included in the FY2017 NDAA,” they wrote, “we respectfully urge you to ensure that no fewer than 2,500 additional Afghan SIVs are included in whatever mechanism funds the State Department through the end of Fiscal Year 2017.”