Save the visa program for Afghan interpreters
In the upcoming weeks, the Senate will take up the National Defense Authorization Act, the annual legislation that authorizes funding and lays out policy priorities for a wide range of defense activities, including a program to provide visas to Afghan interpreters, which has received bipartisan support since its creation in 2007. The program is in danger of becoming a casualty of the anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment within today’s politics. The Special Immigrant Visas for Afghan Interpreters program has garnered bipartisan support because of the risk that the interpreters have taken for the United States. If the program lapses, as many as 10,000 individuals will face likely harm or even death from anti-American forces. That is a good enough reason alone to support an extension.
But the U.S. also has a military interest in continuing the special immigrant visa program. Ending it will not just put the lives of Afghan interpreters at risk. It will also cost us our moral credibility and hurt U.S. military operations for years to come.
Consider what happened in Iraq and what is already happening in Afghanistan**. **When the military left Iraq, those Iraqis who took a risk to work with American and NATO forces were the first to be killed. The Taliban in Afghanistan is actively targeting our Afghan interpreters and in Iraq, it is estimated that 1,000 interpreters were murdered by anti-government terror groups. One estimate claims that an interpreter is killed every 36 hours.
As veterans of both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we relied heavily on these translators to successfully complete our missions. One of those Afghans who provided faithful and valuable service was a man named Salarzai. He served as the Cultural Advisor to U.S. Forces in eastern Afghanistan and was invaluable to the U.S. commander in his area. He helped American forces form effective strategies and gain the support of local civilians, as well as working with us to find Taliban hiding among the general population.
We have a moral obligation to do everything we can to keep these interpreters and their families safe. As Congressman Seth Moulton put it, these interpreters “put their lives on the line not just for their country, but for ours. The very least we can offer them is a chance to stay alive.”
After 15 years of combat operations and over 2,000 Americans killed, Americans are rightfully asking whether nation building in Afghanistan has made us safer here at home. If we abandon the Afghan interpreters who risked their lives to further our stated interests in their home country, we guarantee that we have made their families less safe.