Congress may soon issue a death blow to the hopes of some 10,000 Afghanistan interpreters and their families. Despite the efforts of fierce supporters like John McCain, it seems that the special immigrant visa program, which has offered refuge to those who worked closely with U.S. troops, will not be extended.
The consequences are dire. As McCain told to his fellow senators, “People are going to die."
Paul Solotaroff first reported in March 2014 on the interpreters who risked their lives in the heat of battle becoming marked men when the troops withdrew. They received death threats. They were forced to go into hiding. They feared for the lives of their family members. In the case of Janis Shinwari, who saved the life of a platoon member, U.S. intelligence intercepted information that he was actively targeted for death by the Taliban.
To call the program a success would be a big stretch. The process of securing these visas has proved nightmarishly slow. Years would pass, spent in a frantic hide-and-seek, before they came through. But despite its deficiencies, what the program offered was hope.
There have been suggestions that lawmakers are suddenly denying the program in the run-up to these elections because they’ve caught the Trump-led nativist sentiment of the times. Even the words of former Afghanistan generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, and current commander General John Nicholson Jr., have fallen on deaf ears.
Talk to a former soldier like First Lieutenant Matt Zeller, whose life Shinwari saved, and he’ll tell you it’s no different than leaving behind a fellow soldier. (He started the No One Left Behind organization to get these men home.) But it appears that the issue is now just another political football for the likes of Chuck Grassley, Jeff Sessions, and Mike Lee.
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