| December 12, 2019 02:27 PM
After months of deliberation, Congress on Wednesday agreed to a defense bill that allows thousands of Afghans who worked with the American military to immigrate to the United States.
The National Defense Authorization Act for 2020 provides 4,000 Special Immigrant Visas to Afghan interpreters and others whose lives are threatened due to their work with American forces. For former interpreters like Zia Ghafoori, the visas are the difference between life and death.
“As far as SIV is a life-saving process, it’s been always first priority for us,” Ghafoori told the Washington Examiner. “We appreciate Congress for their continued support on our SIV applicants because there is still around 20,000 applicants waiting and or [in] the process for their visa.”
Ghafoori, who passed his U.S. citizenship test on Tuesday, was an interpreter for Staff Sgt. Ronald Shurer, who was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Trump in October 2018. During Shurer’s ceremony at the White House, Trump applauded Ghafoori’s efforts.
No One Left Behind, a nonprofit organization that helps SIV recipients make a new life in the U.S., views the visas as a step in the right direction for Afghans who saved American lives. Program supporters, many of them veterans who served with local interpreters, believe the program is crucial toward maintaining good relationships with future allies.
“Fulfilling our obligation to the Afghan translators who risked their lives alongside our soldiers on the ground is rightly a national security issue,” retired Army Gen. David Petraeus and former Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker said in a joint statement to the Washington Examiner. “And a great nation honors its commitments to its partners.”
Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton, who served in combat with interpreters in Iraq, said he believes many of his former colleagues might not be alive if it weren’t for the program.
“I just can’t emphasize enough how critical their support is to our troops and how they save lives every single day,” Moulton told the Washington Examiner. “And that’s why I’ve been so committed to the translators that I served with on the ground in Iraq, and I brought several of them to America because they would probably be dead now if this program didn’t exist.”
When asked if 4,000 new visas were enough, Moulton said it depends on what happens as the U.S. continues to battle the Taliban and other extremist groups in Afghanistan.
“The bottom line is that we shouldn’t be talking about numbers, we should be talking about a principle, which is that if you risk your life for America, we have your back,” Moulton said.
The House of Representatives passed the $738 billion defense bill on Wednesday with an overwhelming majority. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill next week, after which it will be sent to Trump for his signature.