The recently proposed $118 billion Senate border bill is not only focused on border security and providing aid to countries like Israel and Ukraine, but it also offers a glimmer of hope for Afghan refugees who assisted U.S. soldiers during America's longest war. Tucked within this comprehensive package is a measure that would finally provide a long-awaited pathway to residency for tens of thousands of Afghan refugees who arrived in the U.S. on military planes after the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021.
However, the fate of this measure hinges on the ability of lawmakers to reach a consensus on the unrelated provisions within the bill. Many Democrats, including members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, have opposed what they perceive as extreme far-right border policies included in the legislation. They argue that these policies do not contribute to fixing the country's broken immigration system. On the other hand, conservatives argue that the bill does not go far enough in addressing the issue of daily migrant crossings at the southern border.
If the bill fails, it would mark yet another disappointment for the more than 76,000 Afghans currently residing in the U.S. who find themselves in immigration limbo due to congressional inaction. For nearly three years, a small group of bipartisan lawmakers and advocacy groups have been striving to push for a vote on a standalone bill, the Afghan Adjustment Act. This act would prevent Afghans from being left without legal residency status once their humanitarian parole expires. However, Republican lawmakers have staunchly opposed the vetting requirements for the refugees and their family members still stranded in Kabul, presenting a hurdle for the bill's progress.
Nevertheless, the bipartisan border deal presents a much-needed breakthrough. Senators from both sides of the aisle, along with their staff, have worked diligently to bridge the divide and produce legislative text that satisfies both parties. The proposed legislation combines measures that would allow qualified Afghans to ultimately apply for U.S. citizenship, similar to what has been done for refugees from other nations such as Cuba, Vietnam, and Iraq. These measures would be accompanied by stricter and expedited vetting processes.
Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, one of the lead sponsors of this effort, expressed his satisfaction with the result, stating, 'I'm very glad that it’s included because this is an important signal that the United States stands by those who stand by us.'
It is important to note that the Afghan refugees were admitted into the U.S. on a temporary parole status as part of Operation Allies Welcome, which constitutes the largest resettlement effort in decades. They were promised a pathway to a new life in America for their service and loyalty.
The fate of fulfilling this promise to America's longstanding allies in Kabul, however, remains uncertain. Republican leaders in the House have already declared the bill a non-starter, and even securing passage through the Senate, where the deal was negotiated, poses a significant challenge. Despite these obstacles, proponents of the Afghan provision are cautiously optimistic, seeing signs of progress in their campaign.
Shawn VanDiver, a Navy veteran and head of #AfghanEvac, a coalition supporting Afghan resettlement efforts, shared his excitement about the inclusion of the measure in the package. He noted that Afghan allies and their family members have expressed gratitude and hope in the last 12 hours. However, VanDiver also stressed the need to manage expectations, acknowledging the challenges involved and describing it as 'embarrassing' that permanent residency for these deserving individuals has not been secured yet.
As the fate of the comprehensive Senate border bill hangs in the balance, the hope remains that the pathway to residency for Afghan refugees can be realized. Supporters of this provision continue to advocate for the rights of those who risked their lives and aided the United States for two decades. Ultimately, this measure represents an opportunity for the United States to fulfill its promise to those who stood by its side in Afghanistan.