From our partners at DownWithTyranny!
My friend Sonia, a Holocaust survivor and author of over 40 books, is writing a new one now about a torn-apart family of Afghan refugees who are living in the Bay Area in the late 1970s. After two long stays in Afghanistan in the 1960s and ’70s, I too was living in the Bay Area when her book is set. And in the same scene– the Mabuhay Gardens punk rock scene– her protagonist gets involved with. So I’m helping Sonia create the back story to give her characters context.
I’ve been traveling since I was a kid, when I ran away from home one Easter and hitch-hiked to Florida as a dress rehearsal for a summer escape to Tonga via California. International travel is in my blood. The countries I like to visit multiple times aren’t about the shopping opportunities or great restaurants or beautiful scenery; the big factor is always the people. All told, I spent nearly a year in Afghanistan because I thought the people were so awesome– so independent minded, so-honor bound and loyal and so true to their moral code. I’ve been back in touch with that code again– Pashtuniwali– because of Sonia’s book.
Yesterday I saw a disturbing report from NPR that Afghans who worked with U.S. forces have been told they can no longer apply for special visas. Many of these people are in mortal danger because they helped the U.S. and were explicitly promised sanctuary in America in return for their aid.
On Thursday, the U.S. State Department announced that it expected the visas to be depleted by June 1 and that “No further interviews for Afghan principal applicants … will be scheduled after March 1, 2017.”
NPR’s Quil Lawrence reported, “The Special Immigrant Visa program was designed to reward Iraqis and Afghans who help U.S. forces at war, but it’s been plagued by a lengthy vetting process and changing politics in Washington.”
The special visas also apply to spouses and children of people who worked as translators, drivers and other staff for the U.S. military and other agencies.
…Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said in a statement that “It is no exaggeration to say that this is a matter of life and death as Afghans who served the U.S. mission continue to be systematically hunted down by the Taliban. The number of visas needed for those in danger far surpasses what’s provided in this bill.”
Shaheen, a Democrat, has partnered with Sen. John McCain, a Republican, to push for the program to continue, and both have condemned what they see as a shortsighted policy of limiting visas, making it more difficult for the U.S. government to persuade local allies to work with them.
“It’s not just a quid pro quo, ‘Hey you help me out [and] I’ll help you get to America,’ ” Marine veteran Zach Iscol told Quil. “It’s taking care of those who took care of us when we were in their country.”
Last month the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan asked Congress to send more troops to Afghanistan, where American soldiers have been assisting Afghan security forces since the U.S. formally ended its combat mission in 2014 and are increasingly drawn into battle there.
There are currently 8,400 U.S. service members deployed to Afghanistan.
Last year, nine former Iraqi translators sued the federal government over delays in the program. Some had been waiting five years or more to get an answer about their visa applications.
Mac McEachin of the International Refugee Assistance Project, which has helped Afghans apply through the special visa programs in both Afghanistan and Iraq, said in a statement that he believes allowing the program to lapse could affect U.S. operations outside the two countries.
“This news deals our ground efforts an especially harsh blow, as it comes on the heels of the announcement that troops from the 82nd Airborne will be deployed to Syria,” he wrote. “Now that the world has seen how we turn our backs on our Afghan allies, there is almost no chance that local allies in Syria will be inclined to work with us.”
The collapse of the U.S. special visa program is part of a larger closing of U.S. borders to people fleeing war and political violence.
What’s most repulsive about Donald J. Trump is that he is utterly devoid of any sense of honor or human dignity. He’s an amoral monstrosity– a true American Psycho– who lured voters with fake promises and is now leaving them high and dry. In West Virginia, he promised help with the opioid epidemic that is killing thousands of people. Now he’s all about making deals with the criminal PhRMA corporations that are preying on West Virginia Trump supporters. That’s who he is. The very idea of a lowlife like Trump honoring the commitments America has made to Afghans who risked their lives for our troops is at odds with the ugly essence of this ugly, despicable, dishonorable man.