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The United States plans to withdraw from Afghanistan this year, but we’re leaving friends behind and some of them will die because of it.
President Joe Biden this year announced a few thousand remaining U.S. troops would leave the country by Sept. 11, the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks that triggered the conflict. As the deadline draws near, there’s concern that thousands of Afghans who sided with the United States during the war will be left to fend for themselves amid a threat of rising violence.
It is long past time to end the war in Afghanistan — the longest war in U.S. history, launched 20 years ago to kill terrorists who by now are long dead — but it must be done responsibly and while honoring promises to those who aided our cause. Giving them legal status in the United States is truly the least we can do.
One of them is Zalmay Niazy, an Iowa resident from Afghanistan and former military interpreter whose plight has been recognized by the state’s two U.S. senators.
Niazy began working as an interpreter for the military as a teenager more than a decade ago, according to Iowa Falls Times-Citizen journalist Sara Konrad Baranowski, who has covered the story extensively. He was wounded by bombings and gunshots and had family members killed by the Taliban.
In early 2015, the Afghanistan native ended up in Iowa Falls where he had a cousin and applied for asylum. He established a life in small town Iowa — buying a home, starting a handyman business and volunteering in the community, the Times-Citizen reports. However, his immigration case saw no movement until he pleaded to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley at a town hall meeting in 2017.
"If I did something wrong, just tell me,” Niazy told Grassley in 2017, according to the Des Moines Register. “If not, please protect me and my family.”
Grassley vowed to do whatever he could to help Niazy stay in the United States. After an interview with immigration authorities, the case stalled again until last month, when Niazy received a notice from the federal government that his asylum request was denied. He now faces possible removal from the United States, pending court proceedings this month.
We lost the war, and now we are pulling out of a country still in turmoil and largely controlled by the enemy, who undoubtedly will take aim at our discarded allies.
During the “War on Terror,” the United States established special immigration visas for people of Afghanistan and Iraq who worked on our country’s behalf. More than 15,000 Afghans have earned legal status through the program, but thousands of others have been denied or received no response.
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and a bipartisan group of colleagues raised the issue in a letter to Biden last month.
“There are already reports of Taliban threats targeting those who helped the U.S. once troops are withdrawn. These threats cannot be ignored,” Ernst and others wrote in the letter.
The senators are calling for the administration to grant at least 20,000 additional visas and to address a backlog “that has left Afghan applicants languishing in a dangerous limbo.”
The special visa program is bogged down by a lack of resources and muddled by confounding denials. Applicants can be shut out if they’re thought to have aided the Taliban, even if the links are tenuous and date back to before the war. They were good enough when we needed their help, but not now?
Slow and spiteful is how immigration proceedings often go, and there’s no true fast lane, even for bona fide war heroes who have already undergone extensive military background checks. They are better Americans than many of us who are only here by winning the birth lottery.
However righteous the reasons for going into Afghanistan, what’s happening now is unconscionable.
We invaded a foreign land that was already ravaged by decades of war. We recruited locals to help, forcing them to take sides in a war between the United States and the Taliban, at enormous risk to their lives and their families. We lost the war, and now we are pulling out of a country still in turmoil and largely controlled by the enemy, who undoubtedly will take aim at our discarded allies.
The history of immigration policy in the United States is littered with hypocrisies and injustices, a nation of immigrants who too often turn our backs on the huddled masses. But of all this, abandoning our Afghan friends might be our most shameful sin.
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