Thirty retired top brass from the U.S. military urged congressional leadership Saturday evening to pass legislation that would help Afghan refugees more easily become permanent residents.
"We are convinced that the Afghan Adjustment Act furthers the national security interests of the United States," the group wrote in a letter addressed to congressional leadership. "It is also a moral imperative. Congress must act now."
The retired military leaders pressed Congress to include the Afghan Adjustment Act in the omnibus spending bill that must be passed before Dec. 23 to avoid a government shutdown.
The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in a matter of days in August 2021, just two weeks before the U.S. was set to complete troop withdrawal after two decades at war. Afghans flooded the Kabul airport to escape the oppressive regime and ultimately, at least 2.7 million fled their home country, according to the United Nations. More than 88,000 of those evacuees fled to the U.S., according to the Department of Homeland Security.
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Evacuees, including Afghans who helped America fight the Taliban, were granted temporary permission to live and work in the U.S. as well as receive health benefits, but that status is set to expire next year. The Afghan Adjustment Act would provide stability to the many Afghans living in the U.S. whose service to America forced them to leave their homes.
"It is imperative that we honor our commitment and promises to our Afghan allies who risked so much to support our military forces for over 20 years," said Ryan Manion, a Gold Star sister and president of the Travis Manion Foundation. "Passage of the Afghan Adjustment Act serves to keep our country’s commitment to our allies, and serves to further honor our nation’s military veterans and other Gold Star families who have sacrificed so greatly for our freedom."
The Afghan Adjustment Act would let the refugees apply for permanent residency status in the U.S., allowing them to avoid deportation and let them keep their employment and health care benefits. The evacuees would otherwise need to go through other processes, such as applying for asylum, which could take years.
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The former military leaders join a group of retired U.S. ambassadors to Afghanistan who also called for the legislation to be included in the spending bill.
The bill would help refugees avoid expensive legal fees and bypass backlogged refugee processes. Critics of the legislation raised security concerns on whether an expedited process would allow for sufficient vetting, but proponents argue many of the Afghan evacuees were U.S. allies and would still undergo thorough background checks.
The bipartisan bill has 142 co-sponsors in the House and five in the Senate. Next steps are expected before the new Congress.