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A Year After Afghanistan Fell to the Taliban, a New Bill Aims to Help Evacuees
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A Year After Afghanistan Fell to the Taliban, a New Bill Aims to Help Evacuees

Plus: The clock ticks on the 117th Congress.

Good morning. The House is in today, with a vote likely this afternoon on Democrats’ sweeping climate, drug pricing, and taxation measure. You can watch the debate here.

Lawmakers Propose Legal Permanent Residence For Afghan Evacuees

One year after American troops left Afghanistan and the Taliban took power, tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees face uncertainty amid a backlogged American immigration system.

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers introduced legislation this week to create a pathway to permanent legal residency for Afghans who fled their home country and who are in the United States on special humanitarian parole, which is temporary. To obtain permanent legal status, those Afghans currently have to go through the beleaguered American asylum system or the Special Immigrant Visa program, slow processes that can mean years of waiting without much clarity from immigration officials.

The bill, titled the Afghan Adjustment Act, establishes a pathway for Afghans seeking permanent legal residency, including a vetting process separate from the Special Immigrant Visa program or the asylum system. It also expands qualified applicants to the Special Immigrant Visa to include groups previously part of Afghanistan’s military forces and their families. The bill requires transparency from the State Department about Afghan admissions and creates a task force to develop a strategy to support Afghans who are outside of the United States but eligible for Special Immigrant Visa status. SIV recipients include translators and other allies who assisted American and coalition troops during the two-decade war in Afghanistan.

A section-by-section account of the bill’s provisions is available here. Full legislative text is available here.

The United States carried out a hasty and incomplete evacuation of Afghan allies after the Taliban suddenly took power in Afghanistan last year. Lawmakers and experts had urged the Biden administration for months before the withdrawal to ramp up its evacuations of those who assisted American troops and are entitled to safe harbor in the United States, but senior officials did not heed those warnings or elevate it as a priority.

In addition to the more than 70,000 Afghans in limbo in America, many are still in Afghanistan and facing dangerous circumstances. Foreign Policy reported this week that there are about 77,200 Afghans who have applied for SIV acceptance stuck in Afghanistan, including 10,400 applicants who are far along in the process.Those applicants are able to bring immediate family members with them when they receive approval, meaning the total number of Afghans seeking to leave through the SIV process is much higher.

“As we reflect on the last year without a U.S. presence in Afghanistan, it is clear that our mission there is not yet complete,” said Rep. Peter Meijer, a Michigan Republican who cosponsored the House version of the Afghan Adjustment Act. “We still have thousands of interpreters and other Afghan partners who put themselves and their loved ones at risk remaining in Afghanistan, and thousands more who were evacuated to the U.S. now facing legal uncertainty as they try to rebuild their lives.”

Meijer argued the bill would keep promises the United States made to its Afghan partners at the outset of the war.

“Our credibility with our allies and our moral standing in the world depend on the completion of this mission,” Meijer said.

Matthew Soerens, U.S. director of church mobilization and advocacy for the evangelical Christian organization World Relief, said the Afghan refugees his team works with in the United States are “incredibly stressed” about the expiration date on their legal documents. Their humanitarian parole lasts just two years, and many evacuees are approaching one year being in the United States.

Soerens said at a minimum, refugee aid groups hope the government will renew the humanitarian parole, but he noted that would still leave recipients on a temporary status and at the mercy of whoever holds the presidency.

He praised the Afghan Adjustment Act, saying he hopes it passes as quickly as possible.

“It’s not these Afghans’ fault that they came in through a process other than the traditional refugee process,” he told The Dispatch.

World Relief and other organizations are reaching out to Republican Senate offices about the bill, he said, hoping to build enough support for it to pass this year.

Under the Senate rules, the bill needs 60 votes to advance. If every Democrat supports it, 10 Republicans would also have to back it for it to pass. The House, controlled by Democrats, requires only a simple majority to pass the legislation and Democrats could do so without GOP support.

Soerens said he expects strong bipartisan support for the bill, pointing to the many ideological differences between the two main sponsors—Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Lindsey Graham.

“We’re an evangelical Christian organization,” Soerens said. “We have good relationships on both sides of the aisle. We really do not think this should be a partisan issue.”

Lawmakers feel a sense of urgency to get the bill over the finish line soon. If Republicans take the House in the upcoming midterm elections, it could make it more challenging to pass the legislation.

“I know the math that we need to make work out right now, and I think it’s possible right now,” said Soerens. “Particularly in the House, it could become more challenging next year. It may not, but it very well could. And that’s true, frankly, on any number of immigration policy issues that we’re paying attention to.”

Congress’ Productive Streak, And Priorities For The Rest of The Year

In recent weeks, lawmakers have approved a major bipartisan bill to heighten domestic manufacturing and boost America’s ability to compete with China, another measure to expand health care for veterans, and the most impactful gun violence prevention legislation in decades. On top of those, House Democrats are expected to approve a bill today including climate change mitigation efforts, drug pricing reduction provisions, and tax hikes on large businesses.

The press has spilled a lot of ink over this suddenly productive Congress, but there’s a simple way to understand it: Lawmakers from both parties know the 117th Congress—with just a few months remaining from now until the beginning of January next year—may be the final opportunity for years to approve legislation touching a wide range of subjects, with Republicans poised to at least regain the House majority in the midterm elections.

If they do win the House, GOP leaders will have the power to choose which bills come to the floor, and they’ll likely be contending with a larger right-wing faction that isn’t amenable to cooperation with Democrats. The House Republican conference’s tendencies to steer clear of bipartisan collaboration have been evident this Congress, including fierce blowback against the few GOP members who supported a bipartisan Senate-passed infrastructure investment bill last year and a last-minute whip operation against the competition and semiconductor chips legislation last month.

The ticking clock is a key factor in the recent surge in congressional activity. Lawmakers are prioritizing what bills to bring forward in their committees and on the floor with the limited time they have remaining.

“We’ve got to make some decisions,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks told reporters in the Capitol Wednesday afternoon. He said members have “basically a few weeks” in September to work in between their return from August recess and another recess stretching from October to mid-November, after the midterm elections.

Lawmakers could elevate several major foreign policy efforts in that time. Retiring Republican Sen. Rob Portman is pushing a bill to designate Russia’s horrific human rights abuses and brutal violence in Ukraine a genocide. He also wants to secure more American aid to Ukraine. 

Members are meanwhile eyeing comprehensive legislation to boost American support for Taiwan, Meeks confirmed to The Dispatch, as the self-governing, democratic island faces increasing pressure from the Chinese government.

Another priority that would have a difficult time passing a part-GOP Congress: The Afghan Adjustment Act, detailed above.

Lawmakers are also hoping to win support for a bill reforming how Electoral College votes are certified, in an attempt to prevent anything like January 6 from unfolding in the future. And following the Supreme Court’s move to send abortion policy decisions to the states—with legal implications for other landmark SCOTUS decisions—congressional leaders are planning to bring forward legislation in the Senate protecting legal recognition of gay marriages across the country.

Congress will also work to finalize the annual defense authorization package for passage before the end of the year, as well as government funding legislation.

A Distressing Quote From an Anonymous House Republican 

“The base has lost its mind,” a House Republican told Politico this week of responses to an FBI search on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property. “If Trump decides to call them to arms, then I think he could get another Jan. 6.”

Of Note

Haley Wilt is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.