Monday, May 01, 2017

Must-Pass Congressional Spending Bill Includes 2,500 Visas For Afghan Interpreters

WASHINGTON ― The massive government spending bill negotiated by lawmakers over the weekend includes a provision that would create an additional 2,500 visas for Afghan interpreters who worked alongside the U.S. military in the war in Afghanistan.

f the spending bill passes, the visas would provide a critical lifeline for hundreds of Afghans whose lives are now in danger because of their assistance to American troops.

“This is potentially a life-saving development,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), the lawmaker who spearheaded the effort to secure more visas, said in a statement on Monday. “Allowing this program to lapse would send the message to our allies in Afghanistan that the United States has abandoned them.”

The U.S. war effort in Afghanistan relies heavily on local interpreters. In addition to language translation, interpreters provide troops with a better understanding of the culture and politics in the area. But working with Americans can pose a huge risk for locals in Afghanistan. Interpreters, whom militants view as traitors, often become the targets of death threats. In recognition of their sacrifices, the State Department has a program that provides “special immigrant visas” to Afghans who face an “ongoing serious threat” because of their work as interpreters for U.S. troops.

The State Department depends on Congress to authorize enough visas to keep the program running. Right now, the program is effectively stalled. There are currently more than 14,000 Afghans at some stage of the application process, a State Department spokeswoman told HuffPost. As of April 20, there were only 780 special immigrant visas remaining. Last month, the State Department said it would not schedule any more interviews for Afghan applicants until lawmakers allocated additional visas.

Passing legislation to keep the State Department supplied with enough visas for the Afghan interpreters should be easy for lawmakers. There is bipartisan support for the program in Congress. The military’s top brass ― including former commander of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan Gen. David Petraeus and his predecessor, Gen. Stanley McChrystal ― have all urged Congress to allocate more visas. Gen. John Nicholson, the current commander in Afghanistan, has said that failing to do so “could have grave consequences for these individuals and bolster the propaganda of our enemies.” During his confirmation hearing in January, Defense Secretary James Mattis said he would work to ensure that the translators were not left behind after risking their lives to support the U.S. war effort. - Read More, Huffpost


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