The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has stopped interviewing people applying for visas under a program intended to help interpreters who assisted U.S. troops who now face threats to their lives, a Democratic senator said Thursday.
“Allowing this program to lapse sends the message to our allies in Afghanistan that the United States has abandoned them,” Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSenate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken We have a plan that prioritizes Afghanistan's women — we're just not using it Scott Brown's wife files to run for Congress MORE (D-N.H.) said in a statement. “It’s both a moral and practical imperative that Congress right this wrong immediately.”
Shaheen’s statement confirms a report from the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), which earlier Thursday said interviews were halted to “due to a shortage in available visas.”
“This devastating development means that thousands of trusted allies will remain in danger, waiting for Congress to allocate visas that were clearly needed months ago,” Betsy Fisher, policy director of IRAP, said in a statement. “IRAP and champions in Congress were clear last year that, if sufficient visas were not allocated, our allies’ lives would be jeopardized. Our worst fears are proving true.”
Shaheen has been an ardent supporter of the program, leading a failed effort last year with Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain20 years after 9/11, US foreign policy still struggles for balance What the chaos in Afghanistan can remind us about the importance of protecting democracy at home 'The View' plans series of conservative women as temporary McCain replacements MORE (R-Ariz.) to add 4,000 visas to the program.
The National Defense Authorization Act passed in December added 1,500 visas to the 3,500 visas left and reauthorized the program for four years. It also tightened requirements for who could get visas to those considered in the most danger.
More than 10,000 Afghan citizens are estimated to still be waiting for visas.
Shaheen pledged Thursday to introduce legislation to immediately provide more visas.
“Thousands of Afghans have put themselves, and their families, at risk to help our soldiers and diplomats accomplish the U.S. mission and return home safely,” she said. “Breaking our promise to keep them safe would be a stain on our nation’s honor and jeopardizes local support in both this, and future, missions. I will soon introduce legislation that will provide additional visas for the Afghan SIV program and will use every available opportunity to seek additional visas to help those Afghans who helped US.”
The lapse in the program for Afghan interpreters follows a controversy with a similar program for Iraqis who helped U.S. troops. Iraqis granted special immigrant visas were caught in the original executive order issued by President Trump on refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, sparking bipartisan backlash. Trump has since issued a new order that removes Iraq from the list of countries from which travel is temporarily banned.