It is time to consider what more we can do to help those Afghans who helped us through 20 years of war. As Congress debates legislation to support newly arrived refugees, why not create a “GI Bill for Afghan Allies” to give those men and women who bravely served alongside our military, humanitarian, and development organizations access to training and education at community colleges, state schools and universities? The opportunity would be similar to what we’ve provided our own vets since the end of World War II.
The GI Bill has been instrumental in reintegrating American service members returning from war and helped usher in one of the most prosperous eras in our history. The cost to educate Afghans admitted to the U.S. under the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, while not inconsiderable, would be minuscule compared to what we have been spending daily on war and nation building in Afghanistan. Moreover, such an initiative would be critical to accelerating their integration and maximizing their ultimate contribution to their new country.
The exact number of Afghans who worked with the US military, the embassy, and the country’s development efforts in the past 20 years is uncertain due to incomplete records kept by many of the companies who facilitated their employment. The SIV program, enacted as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2006 and expanded by the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009, was designed to provide an expedited pathway for visas for Afghans (known as the principal applicant), who were employed “by or on behalf of the US Government” or by the International Security Assistance Force or its successor missions. It was intended for Afghans who had “experienced or (were) experiencing ongoing threats as a consequence of their employment” and extended to their spouses, and any unmarried children under 21 years of age. Including family members, more than 70 thousand Afghans may be eligible for SIVs, and there are a reported 20,000 interpreters with SIV applications in process due to the chronic and deadly delays in the application process. Whatever the exact number, thousands of Afghans have begun to arrive in the United States, their past lives in backpacks and suitcases, their futures unknown, carrying the trauma of decades of war and a narrow escape through a panic packed airport and Taliban checkpoints.
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