Almost three years after the Taliban retook control of Kabul, the 120,000 Afghans who managed to escape to the U.S. and many more who failed in their attempts remain in grave uncertainty and, in some cases, danger. The U.S. needs to take action to regularize the immigration status of those who were airlifted out of Afghanistan and to assist those who remained. Doing so would strengthen our national security by honoring commitments made to our Afghan allies. Congress shouldn’t delay any further in taking action. 

Two issues are at stake for American policymakers. First, some Afghans were evacuated in 2021 and brought to the U.S. through the Biden administration’s use of humanitarian parole. This immigration provision allows the President to act quickly in times of extraordinary need to get people to safety–as was most recently extended toward Ukrainians fleeing Russian aggression. Parole is not a pathway to permanent residency, however, and must be renewed every two years unless Congress passes legislation to adjust their status.  

Second, tens of thousands of SIV applicants—which applies to people who worked directly with the U.S. government in Afghanistan, such as military interpreters—face a considerable processing backlog to receive a relatively small number of available visas. The non-profit group No One Left Behind estimates that hundreds have already been lost to reprisal killings by the Taliban while awaiting visas, and many more will perish unless timely action is taken.

While legislators from both parties have been working to help Afghan refugees, two bills that would address these issues have been held up in Congress. The Afghan Adjustment Act would require Afghan nationals paroled by the President to undergo a stringent vetting process, upon which they would be eligible for permanent residency and a pathway to U.S. citizenship. Passing such legislation would enable Afghans already in the U.S. to pursue career and educational opportunities in their new home. The second bill, the Afghan Allies Protection Act, would streamline the process for SIV applicants and authorize 20,000 visas for those who risked their lives assisting the U.S. military. 

Both bills enjoy robust Republican and Democratic support, and are backed by refugee advocacy groups, human rights non-profits, and veterans’ groups including American Legion.  Polls also indicate that most of the public supports assisting Afghan refugees, particularly those who worked for the U.S. government. Retired military generals and three former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff agree. Senator Jerry Moran, a Republican from Kansas, argued, “Granting Afghan refugees stability, the legal ability to work and a path to permanent residency sends a message to U.S. partners and allies around the world that we honor our word.” 

Despite the widespread support, Congress has yet to pass either of these bills. Some detractors claim that vetting procedures are inadequate or that the implementation cost is too high. While preventing the entry of violent extremists is certainly a priority, refugees and SIV applicants already go through an extensive vetting process, including multiple interviews, background checks, and health screenings. Moreover, Afghan parolees are already in the U.S. The Afghan Adjustment Act, which requires additional screening, should actually allay any concerns about these individuals’ backgrounds.  

And while refugees do indeed depend on public benefits initially,  according to a new study based on decades of data, refugees ultimately benefit the U.S. economy. 

A proposed bill that would effectively end the President’s authority to use humanitarian parole would have particularly disastrous consequences. Humanitarian parole protects vulnerable people from imminent danger when typical refugee processing would take far too long. In the past, Presidents have utilized humanitarian parole to save refugees fleeing Communist dictatorships in Hungary and Cuba. 

In many ways, Kabul’s fall was reminiscent of Saigon’s fall. In the decades that followed the Vietnam War, the U.S. swiftly evacuated its South Vietnamese allies,  welcoming hundreds of thousands of refugees into the country. Afghans, after risking their lives to assist our military, should also be given the opportunity to rebuild their lives in the country. This would strengthen our national security by honoring commitments to our Afghan allies, demonstrating that the U.S. reciprocates when sacrifices are made for the preservation of democracy.