This holiday season, more than 70,000 Afghans in the United States, many of whom American service members rescued last year, are living in limbo, with no guarantee they will be allowed to stay in the U.S. beyond next year.
Many of these Afghans fought alongside American troops in our longest war. U.S. service members helped them and their families flee a collapsing Afghanistan because their service to the U.S. put them in mortal peril. Those veterans and their Afghan counterparts now sit anxiously, waiting to see if Congress will keep honoring America’s promise.
A bipartisan Congressional coalition has put forward a solution: the Afghan Adjustment Act, which would allow Afghans who came to the U.S. during the evacuation to be re-vetted and apply for a permanent status — something which eludes them right now. It also ensures the sustainability of Afghan resettlement, through a task force that will outlast any administration or Congress. Passing this law would immediately improve the lives of tens of thousands of our allies and friends, who have already survived so much to come this far.
As this Congress comes to a close, time is running out to pass it. If a bill is not passed by the end of this year, the temporary parole that allows thousands of Afghans to stay here in the United States will quickly begin to expire, forcing Afghans to tax our already burdened asylum system without any guarantee that they can continue to live their lives here.
The Afghan Adjustment Act is the only way to start to heal the wounds caused by America’s hasty exit from the country — wounds that run deep not only in the Afghan community, but also in the hearts of America’s veterans. Last summer thousands of veterans — myself included — watched in horror as Kabul fell and the 20 year conflict that defined our generation ended with the abandonment of those we spent decades trying to protect. We spent weeks of sleepless nights trying to save as many allies and friends as we could from Taliban reprisals, doing anything in our power to get them through the airport gates and onto planes.
We came together and created a vast informal network here in the U.S. and on the ground in Kabul to rescue thousands of our Afghan partners and help them resettle in the U.S. Every one of us has received messages from those left behind. The burden of the trust our Afghan partners place on us weighs heavy as we see another year rapidly coming to a close. It is a burden that was forced upon us through the inaction of those who hold political power. Now thousands of veterans carry this weight, and will until those at-risk Afghans are safe, because our shared sense of duty and commitment to those we’ve fought alongside for the past 20 years demands it.
America’s veterans are doing our part. We’ve been waiting for the last 15 months for Congress to do theirs.
The Afghan Adjustment Act creates pathways for those who could not make it out during the initial evacuation to come to the U.S. The bill protects America’s national security by ensuring all applicants for permanent residence undergo rigorous background vetting. All Afghans who came to the U.S. through the evacuation would be subject to the security checks used for the United States Refugee Admissions Program. This is the gold standard of vetting; it requires individuals to pass through 13 steps including checks by the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Defense. The Afghan Adjustment Act makes our nation safer not just through its security protocols, but through the message it sends to the world: that America keeps its word.
The Afghan Adjustment Act is sponsored by Democrats and Republicans alike and has wide support from those who have served in uniform. It has the support of everyone from the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, or AFL-CIO, affiliated Union Veterans Council to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. Companies like Airbnb, DoorDash, and many others recognize how the bill helps both their workers and customers.
This holiday season, veterans across this nation are urging Congress and President Joe Biden to honor America’s promise to our allies. Honor our promise to those Afghans whose families are separated. Honor it for the veterans who have sacrificed so much of their lives to America’s effort in Afghanistan. Honor our promise because that is what Americans do. Honor the promise by passing the Afghan Adjustment Act and signing it into law so no more Afghan allies or veterans have to go another year wondering whether we’re a country worth fighting for.
Chris Purdy is an Army veteran who now serves as the director for Veterans for American Ideals and is a Truman National Security Project member. He also worked alongside thousands of veterans and frontline civilians during the Afghan evacuation and afterward to help our Afghan allies.
Have an opinion?
This article is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please email us.
Want more perspectives like this sent straight to you? Subscribe to get our Commentary & Opinion newsletter once a week.