What is the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program?
The United States’ presence in Iraq and Afghanistan has relied on the life-saving assistance of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans who put themselves in danger to serve alongside U.S. troops, diplomats, and contractors. These individuals provided indispensable linguistic, cultural, and geographic knowledge to the United States at great personal risk to themselves and their loved ones.
Since 2006, Congress has established several Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) programs that allow eligible applicants to resettle to safety in the United States. Nevertheless, thousands of U.S. wartime allies remain trapped in legal limbo, while facing persistent threats of torture and death from local militias for their collaboration with the United States. These individuals have already proven their commitment to this country, and the United States government must follow through on its commitment to our wartime allies.
Who benefits from the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program?
The Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program was designed to provide a pathway to safety for Afghan and Iraqi nationals who served alongside the United States. The program has protected the lives of thousands of people, people like Fred and his family.
Fraidoon “Fred” Akhtari served as an interpreter alongside the U.S. military in Afghanistan for 13 years, participating in more than 500 combat missions. After facing harassment and death threats from the Taliban because of his service, Fred relied on the support of his fellow American soldiers and his attorneys to help him through the SIV process. After a harrowing five-year wait, and being denied several times, Fred and his family finally made it to the U.S., where they were welcomed with open arms by the soldiers Fred served alongside.
But tens of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan allies like Fred are still stuck in dangerous situations. Despite the valuable support they provided the U.S. and the extensive background checks they’ve undergone, they are stuck in legal limbo because of bureaucratic inefficiencies and irregularities.
Providing humanitarian relief to wartime allies not only strengthens the United States’ credibility abroad, but also has the potential to increase global stability, security, and prosperity.
As Steven M. Miska, Colonel (Retired), U.S. Army, has put it, “if we are not likely to stand by our most trusted allies…they’re less likely to have those bonds of trust with us. It also hinders our counterintelligence and counter-terrorism investigations abroad because if we’re not doing a good job taking care of in our interpreters and others like that, then people are less likely to be forthcoming with information because they know it puts them at risk. And if we don’t have a good track record of taking care of people who trust us, then it’s going to be much harder to get that information that we need.”
Afghan and Iraqi wartime allies have risked their lives serving alongside U.S. forces. The U.S. government must honor its commitment to these individuals by recognizing allies’ sacrifice and bringing them to safety.