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August 16, 2016

In the Fight to Renew the SIV Program, American Credibility and Afghan Lives are at Stake

By Joe Jenklns

Since 2009 the United States has honored its promise to protect Afghan interpreters and translators fighting beside American troops during wartime. The Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, which brings these allies and their families to the United States after their service, has been integral to the success of our mission in Afghanistan.

The New York Times reports that, despite long-standing support, Congressional inaction now threatens to effectively dismantle the Afghan SIV Program, a failure that would carry with it disastrous implications.

“It’s our credibility that is on the line,” said Brigadier General Charles H. Cleveland, spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan. “We’ve really been trying to reinforce the fact to Afghans that we are committed to you, and this gives the enemy some propaganda to say, ‘Hey, these people really aren’t committed to you.’”

The Times points out that General Cleveland is one of many high-ranking military leaders and national security experts that are urging Congress to extend the Special Immigrant Visa Program. Generals David Petraeus, Stanley McChrystal, and John Nicholson, Jr.—who each served as U.S. commanders in Afghanistan—have all stressed the importance of renewing the program.

For the past seven years Congress has reauthorized the SIV program in its annual defense spending bill. This year, however, it was omitted. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, a longtime supporter of the program, led a bipartisan effort to reintroduce special immigrant visas into the bill. For the Chairman, ending the program would not only damage American credibility abroad, it would endanger the lives of thousands of our ally Afghans.

“People are going to die,” McCain implored his Senate colleagues. “Don’t you understand the gravity of that?”

The Times spoke to one individual that certainly understands. Zar Mohammed Stanikzai, a former translator for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, applied for a Special Immigrant Visa in 2013 and is still waiting. Each day he and the thousands of other Afghans who aided the United States hope the Taliban will not find them, because Stanikzai knows what will happen, “they will kill us.”

Chairman McCain will have another chance to renew the SIV program as the Senate and House of meet in the Fall to work out a final defense spending bill. Now, we'll see if Congress can muster the political will to make it happen.