Migrant Matters
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Migrant Matters

America must keep its promise to the Afghan people

The U.S. military offered refuge to those who worked on its behalf, only to abandon that promise

Photo 23575744 / Afghanistan © Phillipe444 | Dreamstime.com

On September 20, 2001, George W. Bush addressed a shell shocked and jilted country in the aftermath of 9–11. His address served to reassure an apprehensive nation; project strength to allies and foes; and — mostly notably — declare a “War on Terror.”

In retrospect, the phrase was concrete enough to galvanize support and still abstract enough to be used in clandestine ways. This is in part because on September 18, Bush had signed one of the most important documents in contemporary American history: a joint resolution giving the United States sweeping powers to defeat international terrorist threats. Five weeks later, the now infamous Patriot Act would follow.

The sweeping powers that were used against individuals under those two congressional acts alone will haunt America’s commitment to civil liberties for decades.

That same year, the U.S. launched what would become its longest military conflict — the Afghanistan War—and later invaded Iraq. It withdrew from Iraq in 2011 and, next month, it will withdraw from Afghanistan—twenty years later.

I focus not on the monetary cost of the War on Terror, which by some estimates is over two trillion for the Iraq War alone. The numbers are eclipsed by the scale of human casualties. Instead, I focus on the individuals left behind — not only those displaced by conflict, but those displaced by the U.S. military who offered refuge to those who aided it.

An often overlooked component of both wars are the Iraqis and Afghans who volunteered to assist military personnel in exchange for possible resettlement in the United States. In 2006, Congress enacted the Special Immigrant Visa program (SIV), granting a pathway to lawful permanent residency to Afghans and Iraqis who aided U.S. forces. For far too many, this promise hasn’t materialized.

Every administration has since failed to honor the promise that was made to those individuals.

Many Iraqis and Afghans found themselves in a Hobson’s choice: stay in a country that has been destabilized by an invader, or work for that same invader for a chance at relocation to the United States. For many, the latter was more attractive than the former.

Every administration has since failed to honor the promise that was made to those individuals. President Bush left a backlog for President Obama; President Obama’s backlog became insurmountable under President Trump; and President Biden is running out of pragmatic options. So far, the United States has resettled 100,000 Iraqi and Afghan nationals, with two-thirds being dependent spouses and children. Despite this, just as many remain in limbo.

Photo 35319289 / Afghanistan © Andrei Moldovan | Dreamstime.com

Today, as American forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan and leaving their counterparts in a vacuum of peril, Biden has made assurances that those who helped the United States would not be left behind. The U.S. is withdrawing the majority of its military forces in September, while 9,000 Afghans await special immigrant visas. With such a backlog of applications, it would take a herculean effort to ensure each person is guaranteed safety. While the Taliban has claimed it will not attack former informants and allies, this is doubtful given their history, and said assurances are met with skepticism at best.

The legacy of the War on Terror will be a dark stain in American history. For one, we are haunted by the psyche of our veterans and the PTSD they battle from conflicts that arguably should never have been fought. A region once celebrated as the global epicenter of the arts and sciences — now left in shambles — will take decades to recover. Hundreds of thousands are displaced. And even more dangerous, an entire generation of people who trusted America’s promise of freedom and liberation, now witness the failure of that promise.

President Biden must fulfill America’s responsibility to the Afghan people: we cannot leave a single person behind.



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These are my reflections on this journey of life and how (sometimes) we can navigate it better. With candor, love and humo(u)r.