Legislation to create a path to residency for Afghans who worked alongside U.S. soldiers during America’s longest war was stalled as the 117th Congress adjourned for holiday break, leaving tens of thousands of refugees facing an August deadline for action from Congress before their temporary parole status expires.
Nearly 76,000 Afghans worked with American soldiers as translators, interpreters and in other partnerships since the start of the war in 2001 until the chaotic U.S. withdrawal in 2021.
The government admitted the refugees on a temporary parole status as part of Operation Allies Welcome. The largest resettlement effort in the country in decades, it promised a path to U.S. residency to the Afghans as payment for their years of service.
But bipartisan lawmakers who’d hoped to add the Afghan Adjustment Act, ensuring the Afghans’ legal residency, to the more than 4,000 pages of legislation in the end of the year’s omnibus spending bill failed in their endeavor.
The Afghan Adjustment Act would enable qualified Afghans to apply for U.S. citizenship, as was done for refugees in the past, including those from Cuba, Vietnam and Iraq.
Supporters of the proposal had hoped it might clear Congress after the November election because it has enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support. But they have said their efforts were forestalled by a singular lawmaker: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees immigration issues.
Grassley has argued that the bill goes too far by including evacuees beyond those “who were our partners over the last 20 years,” and that it provides a road to residency without the proper screening required.
Among the bill’s supporters, more than 30 retired military officers—including three former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—have written to Congress countering Grassley, saying the bill not only “furthers the national security interests of the United States,” but is also ”a moral imperative.”
The bill’s bipartisan sponsors in the Senate, Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), have vowed to bring it back up again after the 118th Congress is sworn in on January 3.
“This is the right thing to do,” Graham, an Air Force veteran, told the Senate recently, adding, “The people who were there with us in the fight, that are here in America, need to stay.”
While Klobuchar has pointed out that if the bill doesn’t pass and the Afghans are left without residency protections, “[W]hat message are we sending to the rest of the world who stand with our soldiers, who protect them, who provide security for their families?”