FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
IRAP LAUDS BIPARTISAN REFORM OF SPECIAL IMMIGRANT VISA PROGRAM FOR AFGHANS WHO SERVE AS INTERPRETERS FOR U.S. TROOPS AND DIPLOMATS
New York, NY, November 25, 2015 – The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) at the Urban Justice Center applauds today’s passage of crucial bipartisan legislation to extend the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program that protects U.S. allies in Afghanistan. The program would have expired at the end of the year, abandoning thousands of Afghans who serve as interpreters for our U.S. troops overseas. These interpreters are targeted for their work with the United States. Through today’s passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress extended the program through until the end of 2016, and added 3,000 visas for Afghan allies who risked their lives to assist U.S. efforts.
“This legislation allows thousands of Afghan allies to access life-saving visas,” said Betsy Fisher, Deputy Policy Director of IRAP. “The United States has announced that it will keep over 5,000 troops in Afghanistan indefinitely, and our Afghan clients who have served as interpreters alongside U.S. troops and diplomats report that the Taliban has increased its threats and attacks against them. These individuals continue to need the SIV program to protect themselves and their families.”
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. SIV processing continues to be slow, but the 3,000 additional visas will enable the State Department to continue to issue visas to our Afghan interpreters who serve alongside U.S. troops. Further improvements to processing are necessary, but IRAP is delighted to see the program continue.
Major congressional SIV champions include Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH); and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Adam Smith (D-WA), Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Rick Larsen (D-WA). IRAP is also grateful to the Truman National Security Project, Refugee Council USA, and Beena Patel and Joshua Andrews of FaegreBD Consulting for their powerful advocacy.
Catherine Crooke, 917.375.5551