June 29, 2021

Chairman Menendez Urges Biden Administration to Speed Up Protections for Afghans Who Served in Support of U.S. Mission

JERSEY CITY, N.J.Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today called on the Biden administration to speed up its efforts to protect the thousands of Afghan citizens who supported the United States military and diplomatic corps and who now face increasing threats from extremists like the Taliban as the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan nears. 

In a letter following a June 24 announcement that the U.S. government would begin evacuating Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants who worked for U.S forces as interpreters, translators, advisors and support staff in Afghanistan, Chairman Menendez requested Secretary of State Antony Blinken provide the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a series of clarifying details regarding the coordination and planning to relocate the 18,000 Afghan citizens and their 56,000 family members to safe locations outside the country as they await visa adjudication. According to the organization No One Left Behind, over 300 hundred interpreters and their family members have already been killed by extremists as a result of their work to help the United States.

“I continue to have significant concern about the safety and security of Afghans who served alongside our forces and other Afghans who are also facing increasing threats to their lives from extremist including those who worked for the U.S. government, defense contractors, and International Security Assistance Force/Resolute Support Mission, as well as Afghans who worked for U.S.-supported democracy, human rights, and civilian security programs,” Chairman Menendez wrote. “Additionally, I am deeply concerned about the future of the many Afghan women who embraced and worked to advance their country’s freedoms. The United States has a moral obligation to these Afghans and their families who face persecution and threats to their lives because of their support for Americans in Afghanistan.”

In order to avert the worst-case scenario and ensure that the United States government is doing all it can to protect U.S.-affiliated Afghans, Chairman Menendez listed 12 specific questions for the Biden administration to shed light on its diplomatic, military, and logistical plans to evacuate the applicants and their families whose special immigrant visas are currently stuck in a years-long backlog.

“I know you share my view that the United States has an important responsibility to demonstrate our commitment to our allies and partners, as well as to the human rights of those at risk of persecution… I urge the use of all available tools to give shape to these sentiments and to address this population in urgent need as the United States continues its withdrawal from Afghanistan,” concluded Chairman Menendez.

Find a copy of the letter HERE and below. 

Dear Secretary Blinken:

As the United States draws down in Afghanistan and the security situation there continues to deteriorate rapidly, I write to express my strong support for U.S. efforts to immediately relocate Special Immigrant Visa applicants to locations outside of Afghanistan while they await processing.  I urge the Administration to move quickly to ensure that these 18,000 individuals and their 56,000 family members are not harmed by extremist groups like the Taliban in the days to come.

I continue to have significant concern about the safety and security of Afghans who served alongside our forces and other Afghans who are also facing increasing threats to their lives from extremist including those who worked for the U.S. government, defense contractors, and International Security Assistance Force/Resolute Support Mission, as well as Afghans who worked for U.S. - supported democracy, human rights, and civilian security programs. Additionally, I am deeply concerned about the future of the many Afghan women who embraced and worked to advance their country’s freedoms.  The United States has a moral obligation to these Afghans and their families who face persecution and threats to their lives because of their support for Americans in Afghanistan.

I welcome President Biden’s announcement on June 24 that the United States government would begin relocating thousands of Afghans who worked with American forces and diplomats outside Afghanistan to keep them safe while they apply for entry to the United States. This evacuation will be a significant diplomatic, military, and logistical undertaking. As such, I would appreciate prompt responses to the following questions.

  1. At what stage is the planning for evacuating our Afghan partners at the relevant U.S. government agencies involved, to include the Departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security?  Have lead officials been designated to steward the planning and execution of an evacuation operation?
  2. Which agency has the lead for evacuation planning and implementation, and what is the State Department’s role?
  3. For which visa and resettlement programs are our Afghan allies eligible to evacuate outside Afghanistan?  If applicants for programs other than the Special Immigrant Visa are not being relocated, why not?
  4. What is the expected total number of Afghans, including visa applicants and their family members, to be relocated?
  5. What locations are under consideration as destinations for relocated visa applicants awaiting adjudication of their applications?
  6. What factors are being used to determine the above selected locations?
  7. If the selected locations are in third countries:
    1. What is the status of diplomatic engagement with those governments on the planned evacuations?
    2. What is the expected legal status of relocated Afghan visa applicants to these countries?  If under the control of the U.S. military, will they be subject to protections under existing Status of Forces Agreements or will separate legal status be established?
    3. What are the potential second and third order effects of any agreement to host Afghan visa applicants on the broader bilateral relationships with these countries?  What obligations, if any, will the United States incur to them? How long is the Department anticipating applicants may need to wait in third countries for their visa adjudications?
  8. If the selected locations are on sovereign United States territory, what is the status of coordination with state/territory and/or local governments?
  9. To what extent is housing, sustenance, medical, and administrative support available at the locations under consideration?  If unavailable on the scale needed, how expeditiously can this support structure be built?
  10. Does the Department have the resources needed to forward deploy consular capability to process visa applications at these locations?  If not, are there plans to provide access for relocated Afghan visa applicants to local U.S. posts? What other agencies are involved in the vetting procedures necessary to adjudicate the applicants’ visas?
  11. What recourses will the Department afford to relocated Afghan applicants who do not qualify for any U.S. visa or resettlement program?  Will the Department assist with resettlement in third countries?  If so, what is the status of bilateral and/or multilateral diplomatic engagement with potential destination countries for Afghan visa applicants disapproved by the United States?
  12. If relocated visa applicants are disapproved for resettlement in the United States and third countries, to which location will they be deported?  Under what conditions in Afghanistan will deportation to Afghanistan be impracticable?  What contingency plans exist?

Due to the time constraints involved, I ask that you submit a response to the following questions within 30 days of receipt of this letter. I know you share my view that the United States has an important responsibility to demonstrate our commitment to our allies and partners, as well as to the human rights of those at risk of persecution. I urge the use of all available tools to give shape to these sentiments and to address this population in urgent need as the United States continues its withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Sincerely,

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Juan Pachon