WASHINGTON ― Afghans who have helped the U.S. military hope Congress helps them back as part of a year-end spending bill.
Activists supporting the bipartisan effort have kept a near-constant vigil outside the U.S. Senate for months, and they were still out there in pouring rain on Thursday.
“We will stay here and will support our allies, because in Afghanistan right now, they are going through so many difficulties,” Safi Rauf, president and founder of the Human First coalition, the organization leading the vigil, told HuffPost. “So for us to stand in the rain is the least we can do for them.”
Nearly 80,000 Afghan evacuees are at risk of being deported to Afghanistan because they are on a temporary status called “humanitarian parole,” and tens of thousands more are still stuck there hoping to get their special immigrant visa ― a program that allows Afghans who worked on behalf of the U.S. government in Afghanistan to resettle in the U.S.
“Once they go back to Afghanistan, they’re going to face a certain death,” Rauf said, referring to Afghans on humanitarian parole.
The Afghan Adjustment Act, proposed in August by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), would make it easier for these individuals to adjust their temporary status and obtain green cards. The bill would also make it easier and faster for individuals remaining in Afghanistan to get special immigrant visas.
“We owe it to our country to make sure we know what we’re doing when we let people stay here,” Graham told HuffPost. “But we owe it to the people who were there fighting for us for 20 years, risking their lives, to not abandon them.”
However, the bill has not been well received by Republicans, who are concerned that Afghan evacuees have not been adequately vetted. “I think we need to start by finding out who’s here and what their background is, and making sure people around the country know where these people went to,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) told HuffPost in September.
After the bill’s authors failed to attach the adjustment act to a stopgap bill in September, Rauf and other advocates took advantage of the congressional recess to travel to conservative states to press for support for the bill, hoping it would be included in one of several must-pass spending bills this month.
After the measure was omitted from a defense bill last week, Klobuchar worked with Republicans to add extra layers of vetting for Afghans applying for visas. Republican Sens. Jerry Moran (Kan.) and Roger Wicker (Miss.) signed up as cosponsors of the legislation.
Now the bill’s sponsors are scrambling to get it added to a year-end spending bill that Congress needs to pass before Christmas in order to keep the government funded. Graham told reporters Thursday that he had met with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to discuss it. It’s one of several bipartisan bills that various groups of lawmakers are hoping can catch a ride on the so-called omnibus funding bill.
“Once they go back to Afghanistan, they’re going to face a certain death.”
Umbrella in hand, Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), one of the bill’s lead sponsors in the House, visited the vigil on Thursday to talk about the measure’s prospects. He said it would be difficult, but not impossible for Congress to tackle the issue next year when Republicans control the House of Representatives.
“It would be just the most ruinous scenario if tens of thousands of allies that we evacuated [end up] halfway to getting deported right back to the place that we sacrificed American lives to rescue them from,” Meijer said.
Rauf, an Afghan-American who served as a linguist with special operations forces in Afghanistan, recalled being captured by the Taliban this time last year. He was ultimately released as a result of negotiations between the Biden administration and Taliban leaders.
“I was there for three and a half months,” Rauf said. “I saw firsthand the evil of the Taliban.”