Reinstate the Afghan SIV program

Last week, Afghans hoping to receive a Special Immigrant Visa (SVA) were told by the American Embassy in Kabul that applications would no longer be accepted. These Afghans risked their lives serving alongside American troops in exchange for a path to safety through the SIV program. Now, their path is blocked. While it’s unclear if this is a result of the newest so-called travel ban, the timing could not be more troubling. 

This is a personal issue for us. In return for services of Afghan and Iraqi nationals, we promised these individuals safe passage to the United States. It’s a matter of honor, and basic decency. We’ve broken our promise and the word is out. Why would anyone work with Americans if they have no path to the safety they have earned? And how many American lives will be risked because they lack the vital cooperation of allies on the ground?

{mosads}Our organization, Veterans for American Ideals (VFAI), is a diverse group of men and women who continue to serve our country even though we have taken off the uniform, advocating for nonpartisan American ideals such as fairness, equality, and compassion for the vulnerable. We reject this stay of the SIV program, just as we reject the newest travel ban.

We recently met with the staffers of Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) to communicate our opposition to the travel ban. We stand against this policy because it runs counter to America’s proud tradition of welcoming and protecting outsiders. It also weakens our national security by fueling the propaganda war of Islamic extremists and adding to the stress of states hosting the bulk of the refugees, which, in turn, could cause great instability in the Middle East.

We were heartened by Bennet’s stance. He has spoken out against the executive order, understanding that it harms, not enhances, our national security. Their staff was also receptive to the idea of Bennet using his position to help provide for our allies a permanent avenue to safety in the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, and to help streamline this backlogged process. But it’s simply not enough. There are still more than 50,000 allies in desperate need of protection waiting in the broader refugee admissions program.  

We were less heartened by the meeting with Gardner’s staffer. We certainly value the senator’s support for military members, both active duty and veterans, and he seems to agree that pathways to protecting our allies, like the SIV program, should be saved. We thank him for that. And we thank his staffer for taking the time to engage with us in a sincere conversation about this issue.

Our concern is Senator Gardner’s lack of a response to the refugee crisis as a whole. Perhaps he doesn’t want to alienate some of his supporters or add fuel to the fire of his opponents. As a political strategy, this silence is understandable. But it is disappointing. Veterans for American Ideals will be visiting Capitol Hill from April 26-28, and we ask that Gardner communicate his position on the newest executive order and the SIV program by this time.

In addition, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) introduced a bill on Wednesday to amend the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009 to make 2,500 visas available for the Afghan SIV program. The passing of this bill is essential, a step necessary to ensure the Afghan SIV program is reinstated in full and continues to thrive. Shaheen and McCain have been strong advocates of the SIV program, proof of its bipartisan value.

Veterans are everywhere, and we can be a civilizing, unifying voice in our country. We are not props. We are people with the passion and the power and the reach to ensure that our service to our nation meant something then and means something now. Work with us and we will work for you. We will not quit.

And we have only just begun.

Colin Raunig and Dan Zarnowski are Navy veterans. Travis Weiner is an Army veteran. They all live in Colorado and are leaders in Veterans for American Ideals, a project of Human Rights First.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Cory Gardner Jack Reed Jeanne Shaheen John McCain Michael Bennet Thom Tillis

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