Shaheen, Wicker lead legislation to address systematic problems with Afghan SIV process
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a senior member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, introduced new legislation today – the Afghan Allies Protection Act. The new bill is a follow up to Shaheen’s comprehensive report on the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program released last year, which uncovered several systematic problems.
The bill directly responds to the findings in Shaheen’s report, providing for longer-term stability in the program rather than year to year authorizations of visas as well as addressing the persistent backlog that’s slowed the system responsible for getting to the United States Afghan allies who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. troops and diplomats during the twenty year-long war in Afghanistan. Companion legislation is being introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Jason Crow (CO-6).
“Afghanistan might not be on the front pages anymore, but the United States cannot forget about the promise we made to our Afghan allies who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Americans throughout 20 years of war. Our nation promised to stand by them as they stood by us. They held up their end of the deal – the U.S. must do the same,” said Senator Shaheen. “This bipartisan legislation directly addresses the systemic issues with the Afghan SIV program that I uncovered so we can get our allies to safety as swiftly as possible. I’m proud to have Senator Wicker as my partner on this effort. Every day our allies remain in Afghanistan under Taliban rule is another day that their lives – and the lives of their families – hang in the balance. We saw a strong bipartisan determination in Congress to support our Afghan allies in the immediate aftermath of U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan – I urge lawmakers to remember that commitment and to support our bipartisan proposal that would ensure the program runs as efficiently as possible. This is about keeping our word to our allies and maintaining our position as a trusted partner.”
“America made a promise to those who served alongside our armed forces in Afghanistan. Following the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, these allies are even more at risk,” said Senator Wicker. “The U.S. has a moral obligation to follow through and help these supporters who have given invaluable assistance to our forces for over 20 years.”
“I served alongside Afghan partners. I might not be here today without them. Our nation is safer for their bravery, yet thousands are left waiting for the US to fulfill the promise we made to give them safe harbor,” said Congressman Crow. “This legislation breaks down the bureaucratic blockades so many of our Afghan partners have faced by extending the Afghan Special Visa Program, increasing the number of visas available, and addressing the backlog of applicants. Our Afghan partners helped us at great risk to their own lives. It is our duty to honor this promise-turning our backs on them during their time of need is not an option.”
Specifically, the legislation would authorize an additional 20,000. In recent years, Shaheen has pushed to increase the annual authorization of visas from around 4,000 to 20,000. For the first time, this year the President’s fiscal year 2024 budget proposal included the 20,000 visas that Shaheen has long fought to include.
Shaheen has long led on efforts to reform and improve the Afghan SIV program, having partnered with the late Senator John McCain (R-AZ) on efforts to protect Afghans who risked their lives to support the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Shaheen successfully broke through a standstill over authorization for the Afghan SIV program last year when she fought to secure an extension of the program and to procure additional visas in the government funding bill for fiscal year 2023 that was signed into law. She has led bipartisan efforts in Congress to reauthorize additional Afghan SIVs – her bipartisan legislation to that end with Senator Ernst (R-IA) was signed into law in 2021 amid U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan following consistent calls from Shaheen to improve the pathway to safety for Afghan allies.