America’s Duty Toward Vulnerable Afghans

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Issue 1, Volume 112

By Peter Goswami 

The president fled the country after surrendering to terrorists. Desperate to escape, people attempt to cling to airplanes shortly before falling to their deaths. Women and girls live in fear that they may never be able to work or go to school again. These scenes are just a glimpse of the turmoil and chaos in Afghanistan days after the horrific Taliban takeover. Thousands of Afghans who had helped America and other Western nations in their mission against terrorism now fear for their lives. Many civilians, especially women and children, forced to live under a violent, fundamentalist regime where their freedoms are restricted, are in danger. It is our government’s duty to evacuate as many American citizens, Afghan allies, and refugees as possible in the safest and quickest manner to protect their freedom and keep them out of danger.

While more than 300 thousand Afghan civilians were affiliated with the American mission, only between 75 thousand and 100 thousand are eligible to be relocated under the Special Immigrant Visa program. This program already has a backlog of approximately 18 thousand applicants, which, when including family members, could add up to nearly 80 thousand cases, with some waiting 10 years to be resettled. The Special Immigrant Visa program has experienced an average wait time of three years for resettlement in the past and requires a large amount of documentation that can be difficult for many Afghan civilians to get. As we worry about the Afghan civilians, we do not even have a precise number of American citizens in Afghanistan. Even as more and more people are being evacuated from the country, there are still many left who need help.

Around 19 thousand people were evacuated from Afghanistan on August 25 alone. Based on the speed of these evacuations, President Joe Biden decided to stick to his August 31 deadline for ongoing evacuations in Afghanistan. While most American citizens may be able to evacuate by this deadline, it was necessary for President Biden to extend the deadline to help American affiliates and vulnerable Afghan civilians evacuate. Extending the deadline would have allowed us to gather more data on the number of people who need to be evacuated and increase efforts to do so. While extending the deadline may have created additional risk factors, the government needed to work on navigating through these risks safely as a commitment to our American values.

The U.S. government has a duty to not only relocate those who helped them, but also relocate refugees, especially women and girls. Under the Taliban, women may no longer be allowed to work, go to school, and leave their houses without a male relative and burqas, as they were restricted under the Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001. The Taliban, as a fundamentalist Islamic terrorist organization, may also restrict the religious freedoms of Afghan civilians, making the nation unsafe for non-Muslim civilians. After 20 years of American presence in Afghanistan, we cannot expect the majority of Afghan civilians to return to a regime of heavily restricted freedoms and rights. As a nation that believes in freedom and equality and has made so much progress in the fight for women’s rights, we need to help resettle Afghan civilians who wish to leave to preserve these values and basic human rights on a global scale.

Since many European countries have started denying the applications of Afghan asylum seekers, it is America’s duty to allow them to enter our nation. The United Kingdom has allowed Afghans to flee there without passports given that security checks are completed. The United States should allow for a similar process and also expand the Special Immigrant Visa program for those who directly helped the U.S. military to any Afghan civilian affiliated with the American mission.

The crisis in Afghanistan reflects a larger problem with our immigration system, which currently makes it difficult for refugees to seek asylum in our nation. Refugees can face an average wait time of up to 721 days for their immigration hearings. America should be a safe haven for those who are in danger and have lost their freedoms and rights elsewhere.

While some may argue that it is not possible for the United States to support a large number of refugees, the economic contributions made by refugees make up for the costs needed to support them. Refugees have a higher employment rate than citizens born in the U.S., and over a 20-year period, a refugee contributes, on average, $21 thousand more in taxes than the cost of benefits needed for resettlement. As we consider taking in Afghan refugees, their economic contributions will outweigh the costs needed to support them.

The Taliban takeover has left many Afghans in danger. After 20 years of military presence in Afghanistan, we cannot leave behind those who helped our government or who may return to a life in which their freedoms and rights are restricted. It is our government’s responsibility to take the necessary measures for more refugees to relocate to a life of safety in the United States.