Truman National Security Project

Iraqi, Afghan dissidents need special U.S. visas

By Betsy Fisher and Mary Soo Anderson | 11.27.13

Soon, Congress will decide whether Iraqis and Afghans who risked their lives supporting U.S. troops—and are now under threat for their service—will continue to be able to find safety in the United States.

The Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) programs, providing life-saving visas to our Iraqi and Afghan allies, may be extended past their imminent sunset dates—or not—in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), now being discussed in the Senate.

The SIV programs are critical to our national security, and represent a moral obligation. However, in addition to extending the programs, Congress must also fix disparities between the two programs: Under current law, the United States extends more life-saving protection to its Iraqi allies than its Afghan allies. Congress must address this; we owe as much to our Afghan allies as our Iraqi allies.

We are law students at the University of Michigan and members of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), a national organization that represents victims of persecution in the Middle East. Collectively, we have helped hundreds of individuals successfully obtain U.S. protection through the SIV programs. But we are troubled that basic protections offered to Iraqi allies and their families are currently denied to our Afghan allies.

The good news is that the House and Senate versions of the NDAA address this problem. Each includes three important extensions of the current Afghan SIV program to ensure that we provide vital protections to Afghans allies.

First, the bill extends SIV eligibility to Afghans who worked for the United States through our multinational coalition in Afghanistan—the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Currently, ISAF comprises the vast majority of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and is commanded by the same U.S. general.

Iraqis who worked for an analogous force in Iraq—the Multinational Force-Iraq—are eligible for protection if they are under threat due to their service. There is no reason why our government should not make equivalent protection available to Afghans.

The second vital protection in the NDAA is for family members of Afghan SIV recipients who demonstrate that they are also under threat because of their relative’s service to the United States. This measure would protect parents, adult children and siblings of SIV recipients. Under the Iraqi SIV program, these limited categories already receive such protections. These individuals do not automatically receive visas, but must demonstrate that they too are under threat.

Finally, the NDAA would extend eligibility to Afghans who worked for non-governmental organizations and media outlets based in the United States. This measure protects a very small group — estimated to include fewer than 100 individuals — and mirrors existing protections for Iraqis. These organizations support U.S. national security by promoting human rights and providing vital on-the-ground information from Afghanistan, at great risk to their Afghan employees. Affiliation with any U.S.-based organization is often enough to land someone on a Taliban kill list.

Sen. Carl Levin, as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, is at the helm of the NDAA. Join us in urging Levin to preserve these vital protections for our Afghan allies in the NDAA.

Betsy Fisher and Mary Soo Anderson are co-directors of the University of Michigan Law School Chapter of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project. This originally appeared in Detroit News.