Lawmakers on Tuesday introduced a bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for those evacuated from Afghanistan, a first attempt to end their legal limbo after nearly a year in the United States.
The Afghan Adjustment Act, if approved by both chambers, could eliminate uncertainty for Afghan evacuees, some whom had only a year after arriving in the U.S. to secure a legal pathway to remain in the country.
It’s critical legislation for more than 70,000 Afghans who were transported to the U.S. before the end of the U.S. withdrawal at the end of August last year.
The bill allows those who were brought to the U.S. during the evacuation or in the year since to apply to become legal permanent residents after either one or two years residing in the country.
“Giving our Afghan allies a chance to apply for permanent legal status is the right and necessary thing to do,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), one of the bill’s authors, said in a release.
“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 legislation is modeled after other efforts, including bills passed by Congress following the evacuation of allies at the end of the Vietnam War, and retains provisions regarding security vetting.
The bill includes other provisions that aim to aid an estimated 100,000 or more Afghans still remaining in the country made vulnerable either by their association with the U.S. or their involvement in various pro-Democracy efforts and human rights campaigns.
It would established an Interagency Task Force on Afghan Ally Strategy to help those who would typically meet the requirements for the U.S. refugee program or qualify for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) — a visa class reserved for those who assisted the U.S. military.
The SIV process can take years to complete and requires approval by high-level embassy staff — a process only more complicated with the exit of the U.S. diplomatic corps from Afghanistan.
The task force would be led by the secretary of State, the secretary of Homeland Security, the secretary of Defense, the director of the FBI and the director of national intelligence.
The bill would also expand those who qualify for the SIV process, adding a number of military units from the Afghan National Army, including the Female Tactical Platoon of Afghanistan and the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command.
“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,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said in a release. “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,”
In addition to Klobuchar and Murkowski, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) are all original co-sponsors.
A companion bill was filed in the House by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Peter Meijer (R-Mich.).
The introduction of the bill comes after a year of lobbying efforts from various groups warning that Afghans faced an uncertain future and even the risk of deportation without a wide ranging bill to help them adjust their status.
“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,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said in a statement.
“This is how we stand by those who stood by us. Congress has passed similar legislation for every other modern wartime evacuee population, and we simply cannot finish the mission without enshrining these protections into law.”