Hajin Cho / Gavel Media

No Man Left Behind: The Importance of the Special Immigrant Visa Program

The Biden administration’s hurried removal of the United States military from Afghanistan has sparked push back from many Republican figures as they question both the vetting process of said refugees and the United States’ duty to allow Afghan nationals to seek refuge. This skepticism from the right against the special immigrant visa program in the wake of the twenty years spent in Afghanistan is rooted in nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiments that seek to strictly limit who is considered deserving of refugee status.

Many Republican representatives have challenged the speedy vetting process of those fleeing the Taliban as an attempt to keep those who aided the U.S. military from entering the United States. Montana representative Matt Rosendale stated that the Biden administration’s quick evacuation made properly vetting each individual “nearly impossible.” His view was shared by 15 other House Republicans that opposed legislation in July that sought to expand and streamline the special immigrant visa program. These members of the House, as well as others that share their skepticism, fail to understand the foundational processes of the U.S government and the intricacies of the immigration process. 

Their challenge of the incredibly thorough vetting process only seeks to undermine the Biden administration and the immigration system as a whole. If members of Congress cannot understand the legislation and laws that they are challenging, why should they be trusted to speak on the issues? The representatives’ additional lack of understanding of how the special immigrant visa differs from seeking asylum or refugee status further jeopardizes the United States’ ability to protect the immigration system that allows our country to flourish. 

This surge of anti-refugee sentiment, following the removal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, fails to consider the unique circumstance that special immigrant visa holders are in. The program is only open to Afghan nationals who have spent at least one year of service with the U.S. military or government during the total twenty years spent in Afghanistan. In addition to the multiple interviews, biometric vetting, voiceprints, iris scans, palm prints, and facial photos, applicants for special immigrant visas must also receive a letter of recommendation from a supervisor within the U.S. government that affirms that they have “provided faithful and valuable service to the U.S. government.” Those seeking the visas have aided the U.S military by working closely with soldiers as translators or in other vital positions within Afghanistan.

Not only have these Afghan nationals undergone this comprehensive investigation, but they have risked their lives and those of their family in order to aid the U.S. military in their mission. Their association with the U.S. military puts them in extreme danger as the Taliban now has full control of the country after the United States’ withdrawal. Without the help of these individuals, the military would not have been able to work within Afghanistan as it did over the last twenty years. So then why are members of Congress and their constituents challenging the motives of these individuals? Understanding the true sacrifice of the people of Afghanistan is vital in order to see their contributions as equal to those of American soldiers. 

Rep. Rosendale continued his objections to the influx of Afghan refugees by suggesting that they should be resettled to countries surrounding Afghanistan that more closely shared their values. However, those working with the U.S. military did so in order to maintain the U.S.-backed Afghan government and to show their support to the American military’s efforts. As a country, we cannot be so concerned about immigrants and refugees of different religions and cultural backgrounds coming into the United States as this only continues the exclusionary efforts of the past that dictated who is deserving of living in the United States on the basis of race and ethnicity. 

Failing to understand the United States’ obligation to help those within Afghanistan, especially those who qualify for special immigrant visas, only demonstrates an inability to accept the consequences of the United States’ foreign policy and our impact abroad. Assuming that there are no issues or safety concerns for Afghans created by the United States’ rapid exit wildly misunderstands the impact of a military presence and our role in Afghanistan’s government over the past twenty years. 

Rep. Rosendale’s protests against Afghan refugees were echoed by Tucker Carlson, Fox News host, in his statement that “first we invade and then we are invaded.” His statement clearly characterizes how many on the right are so far removed from the war and its impact on thousands of people as his claim solely takes issue with the ladder invasion. Military intervention in foreign countries has a grave impact on those residing there, and an inability to weigh the cost versus reward of this decision will only cause a greater loss of civilian life and will solidify the growing global opinion that the United States only acts in its own self-interest. We cannot continue to fail those that we have placed in harm's way and must recognize that we have the ability to extend our resources to those in need.

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