News & Resources

Two Years After the U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan: What’s at Stake in the Government’s Appeal of Afghan & Iraqi Allies v. Blinken

In the two years since the last military flight took off from Afghanistan, the U.S. Government has quietly tried to wash its hands of responsibility toward the Afghan people it left behind in a country ruled by the Taliban and ravaged by decades of U.S.-led conflict. Between March 2021 and 2022, USCIS collected $19 million in fees for humanitarian parole applications for Afghans seeking safety in the United States, yet failed to adjudicate 94% of the applications that it received. After touting a new refugee program for Afghans, the State Department has released little information about its viability and has only accepted about 5,000 Afghan refugees so far this fiscal year.

The Government’s appeal in Afghan & Iraqi Allies v. Blinken, which will be heard by the D.C. Circuit in coming months, is yet another disavowal of its obligations. The Government argues in the appeal that “intervening events,” such as the war in Ukraine, make it “impracticable” for it to comply with a 2020 court order requiring prompt adjudication of long-delayed Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applications for Afghan and Iraqi nationals who served the U.S. mission in their countries. In other words, the U.S. Government says that it’s time to move on from Afghanistan. But commitments, memorialized in law and in court, cannot be abandoned so easily. 

Early during the U.S. involvement in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, Congress created the SIV program as a path to safety for the locals who risked their lives to perform mission-critical roles, including interpreters, guides, and project managers. In 2013, Congress directed the State Department to process SIVs within nine months of application to ensure a speedy, meaningful avenue out of danger for applicants.

Yet, when the United States pulled its troops from the two countries, it left behind tens of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan nationals who have been waiting for their SIVs for much longer than nine months—in fact, discovery in the case revealed that SIV applicants can generally expect to spend more than four years waiting for their visas. While applicants wait, they and their families live in fear for their lives: their affiliation with the United States makes them a target for the Taliban, ISIS, and other insurgent groups. 

 “My family and I were heartbroken and disappointed to be left behind” by the U.S. troops, said one Afghan applicant who has been waiting for a visa for seven years. He, like many other applicants, lives in hiding because his prior work for the U.S. Government could get his family killed.

The State Department, which administers the SIV program, says that the Department should be allowed to respond to global events as it sees fit without court interference; but for decades it has failed to heed both Congress’s directive to process visas in nine months and the urgent pleas of people whose lives depend on an SIV. If the State Department has its way, the world will hear, loud and clear, that the United States’ humanitarian commitments and wartime responsibilities, even when etched in law, are meaningless. The original sponsor of the SIV legislation, a former Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, and an alliance of veterans and SIV applicants have all submitted amicus curiae briefs in the D.C. Circuit urging against such a result.

At stake in this appeal is the accountability of the U.S. Government for its promises. We stand with our clients in ensuring that the United States cannot walk away so easily from its commitments to the Afghan people.

For updates on IRAP’s work, including major updates on this litigation, sign up for IRAP’s newsletter at