A bipartisan group of Senate leaders are poised to provide a pathway to United States citizenship to Afghan evacuees — just weeks before the one-year anniversary of the Biden administration's withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The Afghan Adjustment Act would make the 70,000 Afghans who were relocated to the U.S. last year eligible for citizenship.
If the measure passes in the House and Senate chambers, the displaced Afghans would have the opportunity to apply for legal permanent residency — after one or two years of living in the U.S.
Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, says the refugee resettlement agency has welcomed more than 13,500 Afghans since last summer.
"We are deeply grateful to Congressional leaders for recognizing the urgency and moral imperative to keep our promise to our Afghan allies," said Vignarajah. "This vital legislation addresses the legal limbo that tens of thousands of evacuees still face, and offers them the stability and peace of mind they need to thrive in their new communities."
Among the six co-sponsors of the original legislation: Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; Chris Coons, D-Del.; Lindsey Graham, D-S.C.; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
"Giving our Afghan allies a chance to apply for permanent legal status is the right and necessary thing to do," Senator Klobuchar said in a release.
Klobuchar added, "this bipartisan legislation will help provide these newly arrived Afghans who have sacrificed so much for our country with the legal certainty they deserve as they begin their lives in the U.S. It's important to do what we can to help our Afghan friends find stability, opportunity, and community in their new home."
The senators' proposal has a modicum of precedent, going back roughly 50 years. In the 1970s, Congress passed a series of pathway-to-citizenship measures for those forced to evacuate Vietnam at the end of the Vietnam War.
This week's legislation also includes provisions that would help an estimated 100,000 or more Afghans who remain in the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan — namely those who meet the requirements for the U.S. refugee program, or qualify for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV).
The lengthy SIV process requires approval by high-level embassy staff. It's available to as many as 50 people who "worked with the U.S. Armed Forces or under Chief of Mission authority as a translator or interpreter in Iraq or Afghanistan."
A new interagency task force — devising and assessing Afghan Ally strategies — would subsequently be formed, co-opting the office resources of the secretary of State, Homeland Security secretary, Defense secretary, the FBI, and Office of National Intelligence.
"It is unlikely that Afghans brought to the United States on temporary status will be able to return to their homes in the near, mid, or even long-term future," Senator Murkowski said in a release.
She added: "At the same time, there are allies and vulnerable Afghans who are desperately trying to leave their crumbling nation, and who live under great risk. The United States must ensure that we keep our promises to our Afghan allies, and provide certainty for those who fled to the United States and have no place to return."
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