FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 12, 2014
IRAP LAUDS BIPARTISAN REFORM OF SPECIAL IMMIGRANT VISA PROGRAM FOR AFGHANS
HELLER: In the most gridlocked Congress in history, Members from across the political spectrum have again proven they will uphold our national security and not leave our Afghan allies to the Taliban.
New York, NY, December 12, 2014 – The Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) welcomes today’s passage of crucial bipartisan legislation to extend and expand the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program that protects U.S. allies in Afghanistan. The program would have expired at the end of the month, leaving thousands of Afghans who are targeted for their work with the United States without sanctuary. Through today’s passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), H.R.3979 Congress extended the program through until the end of 2016, added 4,000 visas for Afghan allies, and implemented much-needed reforms to protect those who risked their lives to assist U.S. efforts. This is the fourth law to pass in the past year pertaining to Afghan SIVs.
“This is a victory for thousands of Afghans whose visa applications have been indefinitely suspended,” said Becca Heller, Director of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project. “In recent months, due to a lack of visas, the Afghan SIV program has ceased functioning as a protection mechanism. Our organization provides legal services to hundreds of Afghans who have faced torture, kidnapping, and death threats as a direct result of their dedication to the U.S. mission. Having placed themselves and their families in mortal danger, our allies need and deserve the protection of the SIV program.”
After five years of failing to issue visas to our Afghan allies, the State Department began improving the process in 2013 after intense advocacy by IRAP and a broad coalition including veterans’ associations, faith leaders, grass roots organizations, and human rights advocates. However, because thousands of visas had expired unused the State Department soon ran out of visas; it stopped scheduling visa interviews earlier this fall. The 4,000 additional visas will enable the State Department to restart the SIV program in full, and will compensate for those visas that were lost. In addition, the new law addresses a State Department policy that has until now excluded from protection interpreters who worked directly with and for U.S. forces but were technically contracted by the NATO presence in Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). ISAF has been commanded by U.S. generals since 2007, and nearly 70 percent of ISAF forces are American. Eligibility for the Afghan SIV program must be further expanded, and more visas will be needed in the future, but we are delighted that the program will be able to continue.
Major congressional SIV champions include Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Carl Levin (D-MI), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), Buck McKeon (R-CA), Adam Smith (D-WA), Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). IRAP is also grateful to No One Left Behind, The Truman National Security Project, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, FaegreBD Consulting, and Refugee Counsel USA, for their powerful advocacy.
You can see the official press release in PDF form here: NDAA Afghan SIV Press Release 12.12.14