Save the brave women of Afghanistan

Save the brave women of Afghanistan
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In the movie Goldfinger, the title character feeds James Bond into a machine designed to cut him in half.  Nervously, the British agent asks Goldfinger if he is expected to talk. Cheerfully, the arch-villain responds “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”

Increasingly, that seems to be the message this country is sending to the thousands of courageous women who answered our call to help build a more modern, inclusive, democratic Afghanistan. We demand that they leave the gates of the Kabul airport because of the likelihood of a terrorist attack, like the explosion this morning, which ordinarily makes sense — but in this instance, without an alternative plan, we are just shunting people away from possible death at the hands of terrorists into certain persecution at the hands of the Taliban.

And all the while, we rigidly insist on keeping to an arbitrary Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline. We have allowed the Taliban run out the clock on our evacuation efforts — and on tens of thousands of our loyal allies’ lives — by obstructing access to the airport and now allowing their terrorist allies to threaten the desperate people trying to leave.

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Vague suggestions that the women who trusted us should try to escape over Afghanistan’s land borders are deeply disingenuous. The country’s transportation infrastructure is in tatters; there are roving bands of Taliban enforcers looking for those who cooperated with the West; the Taliban prohibit women from traveling outside their homes without male relatives; and even if they made it to a border, the women’s reception in many of those neighboring countries would be uncertain at best.

If we do not evacuate these brave women, they will be sitting ducks for the Taliban.

Our involvement in Afghanistan deteriorated very slowly, even imperceptibly to the vast majority of the public. It just took a few compromises with warlords, a couple of suspect elections left uncorrected, some wedding parties bombed based on faulty intelligence, and the steady grind of corruption starving the Afghan forces of weapons, ammunition, and food. The rot set in, the hope drained away, and a country that had proudly thrown off the Taliban was subjugated to them once again.

And early reports from the Taliban’s rule are chilling.

Because the United States, under at least four administrations, failed to check the slide while things were moving slowly, any chance of ameliorating the harm depends on us moving very, very fast. Ordinarily, the process of admitting refugees fleeing foreign oppression is a ponderous one, involving months or years of uncertainty. These delays are regrettable in the best of times. Under current circumstances, however, delay is demonstrably lethal.

Countless critics lament the Biden administration’s failure to make more progress in extracting vulnerable people from Afghanistan before the government collapsed, but that cannot be changed now.

What can and must be changed is the ponderous bureaucratic process standing between the brave women of Afghanistan and the opportunity to be evacuated before the Taliban overrun Kabul’s airport. In most cases, time will not allow them to be certified as formal refugees. The Immigration and Nationality Act, however, provides a safety valve for just this sort of situation. The Department of Homeland Security may admit people temporarily to this country under a process known as “parole.”

Congress established immigration parole for precisely this kind of emergency.

We granted parole to people fleeing the Soviet crackdown on the Hungarian and Polish democracy movements, to Cubans and Nicaraguans fleeing Castro and the Sandinistas, to Chinese people escaping Mao, and to those able to escape the Communist regimes in Southeast Asia after our withdrawal there.  Women facing Taliban oppression are fitting successors to these prior groups, who contributed immeasurably to our economy, our culture, and our appreciation of freedom.

Parole may be conditioned in any manner the authorities choose. For example, parole can be granted for a short period, with renewals dependent upon the parolee finding employment or sponsorship in this country. Once the dust clears, many parolees likely will move on to third countries. Others eventually will prove that they meet the stringent criteria for obtaining permanent residency on that basis. But in the current emergency, there is no time to negotiate with other countries about these women’s long-term destinations. If we do not get them out of Afghanistan within the next few days, many will die and others will be locked away in their homes, cut off from the rest of the world.

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Even if paroled Afghan women were all to stay — which they will not — we certainly would have no trouble absorbing them. Historically, this country has opened its doors to between 80,000 and 100,000 refugees per year. The Trump administration slashed refugee admissions to the lowest levels on record. Although President BidenJoe BidenMcAuliffe holds slim lead over Youngkin in Fox News poll Biden signs bill to raise debt ceiling On The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan MORE has modestly raised the refugee admissions quota, it remains far below previous levels — and he has conceded that actual admissions will fall far short of that cap.

This emergency is great, but so are the opportunities that these women’s talents present to countries taking them in. For 20 years, women and girls who had been systematically barred from schools were offered an education and a chance to make places for themselves in broader society. Their accomplishments in numerous fields are staggering. The all-girl Afghan Robotics Team is just the most prominent example of their achievements in technology. Others have become dauntless champions of human rights and social development. Women fought their way from complete exclusion to holding 27 percent of the seats in the Afghan parliament — a higher fraction than in the U.S. Still others are courageous journalists repeatedly breaking stories their male colleagues fear to touch. These are precisely the women the Taliban sees as a threat and is hunting down and killing.

Once the Taliban has consolidated its rule, these women will have little chance to escape. If we do not help them leave now, they never will.

The U.S. military has dramatically increased its airlift capacity. Without parole into this country, however, these women will be unable even to enter the airport, much less board the planes. Bold action is needed from Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasJohns Hopkins to launch degree program in cybersecurity and policy The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - New front in mandate wars; debt bill heads to Biden DHS to end workplace raids, shift focus to employers over undocumented workers MORE without delay.

For everything we did wrong in Afghanistan, our advocacy of self-determination for women and girls was something we did emphatically right.

The women we enabled to get an education and enter a profession are keenly aware of this country’s role in their liberation. A documentary celebrating a program teaching Afghan girls to skateboard won an Oscar last year. Now the women responsible are reportedly Taliban targets.

We would be hard-pressed to find more grateful and enthusiastic supporters of this country. At a time when political divisions and cynicism is sapping patriotism here, we all could benefit from the presence of these women and their heartfelt appreciation of what a force for good this country can be.

David A. Super is a professor of law at Georgetown Law. He also served for several years as the general counsel for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Follow him on Twitter @DavidASuper1