Dear President Biden, Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, Leader McCarthy, and Leader McConnell:
As the United States government continues to navigate the conclusion of its military mission in Afghanistan, we the undersigned, having seen firsthand the heartbreaking uncertainties that our Afghan allies, American citizens, lawful permanent residents, and their families face in their attempts to flee life-threatening circumstances, submit the following letter urging our country’s leadership to act. The withdrawal of the American presence from Afghanistan has prompted unprecedented action by a coalition of Veterans, active duty military, frontline civilians, non-profit, private sector, academic, and other entirely volunteer organizations working hand-in-hand with willing partners within the Departments of State and Defense to assist in the evacuation and resettlement of the aforementioned individuals. The sheer volume and complexity of this crisis, however, renders our work untenable without increasing the formal support of the US Government.
Success depends on improving interagency coordination, increasing evacuation capacity and resettlement throughput, and our government fulfilling the roles and responsibilities only a government can, in line with the expectations of the American people and our Afghan allies.
Most of our coalition partners were called to action under similar and heartbreaking circumstances: an unexpected text from their former Afghan interpreter or driver who remained behind; a call for help from the allies who became family following their resettlement in the US; a desperate plea from the patriot who volunteered to work side-by-side with US troops in support of our mission. Regardless of the nature of these relationships, the plea was always the same: “Please help. My family is being hunted. Where did the Americans go?” The resulting impact on each of our Veteran and servicemember volunteers, who have dedicated countless hours of their lives to this cause, sequestered at a computer in the middle of the night and losing time from work and family, was always the same: “How could this be, what came of my service?” As you well know, there was a related surge in requests for assistance at the Veterans crisis phone line in the days following our withdrawal and the ongoing mental health impact on Veterans and Afghans alike cannot be overstated.
The all-volunteer, non-partisan coalition that has united under the moniker #AfghanEvac, recognizes that the United States has the power and capacity to meet the challenges of this moment, and we remain both hopeful and confident that our Government will honor its promise to those who remain at risk because of their connection to US activities in Afghanistan.
The #AfghanEvac Coalition represents more than 100 organizations of ideologically and politically diverse Veterans, frontline civilians, public servants, and professionals with the shared goal of evacuating Afghan allies impacted by the 20-year US mission in their country. This broad coalition stands shoulder-to-shoulder with our Afghan allies, ready to welcome them home and support their swift integration into communities within the US and abroad.
To meet this moral imperative, the undersigned members of the #AfghanEvac coalition and other relevant organizations believe that the following steps are both possible and necessary to fulfilling our commitments:
For the Biden administration:
- The Executive branch should, no later than February 2022, appoint an interagency leader with tasking authority, oversight responsibility, and a dedicated staff to develop and implement a multi-year, actionable plan for evacuating our Afghan allies, including qualified P1/P2 referrals, and bringing them to safety. This whole-of-government approach should also:
- Be formally established and appropriately staffed as to ensure long-term program success;
- Include diplomatic engagement with our allies to ensure that Afghan populations made vulnerable through their association with the United States and the values we espouse, including at-risk populations such as women, religious, ethnic, and sexual minorities, military and national security professionals, and civil servants, have a defined and safe pathway to restart their lives in the US or one of our partner nations; and
- Leverage all tools available to the American government to assist our Afghan allies with their successful integration into American society
- The Department of State should authorize virtual visa interviews and medical waivers, and, after appropriate resourcing from Congress, provide qualified surge support for the prompt processing of pre- and post-COM approval Special Immigrant Visa (SIV), P1/P2, and other referral, parole, and visa applicant categories.
- The Department of State should also negotiate with countries to establish and maintain multiple “lily pad” locations to retain agility during this long-term evacuation process.
- The Department of Defense should similarly maintain life support “lily pads” in multiple countries for processing evacuees from Afghanistan and preparing them for onward movement to the US.
- The Department of Defense should halt any plans to close existing safe havens; instead, existing safe havens should be expanded with wraparound services throughout the US in areas best suited for the resettlement of our Afghan allies.
- The Department of Homeland Security should waive all humanitarian parole fees and expedite the processing of visa applications and parole requests for Afghan allies.
- The Department of Homeland Security should also ensure that those evacuated through private charter flights have a legal pathway to resettlement in the US, including by expanding staffing overseas to streamline the facilitation of the humanitarian parole program either overseas or through ports-of-entry.
- The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) should restore funding for Afghans in need of support and deploy trained protection advisors to serve as senior advisors to mission commanders for each step of the evacuation journey.
- The Department of State and USAID should engage with humanitarian agencies, including the International Organization for Migration and the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), to provide humanitarian support for those referred under the P1 or P2 programs and others who remain at-risk due to their association with the US.
- The Departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, and Health and Human Services should work together to establish ongoing mental health support services for evacuated Afghans and American volunteers and public servants involved in the withdrawal, to include dedicated programming with easy and continual availability. HHS should be designated the lead agency for this effort.
The coalition recognizes that President Biden cannot unilaterally ensure the safety and success of our fellow citizens and Afghan allies. As such, we also call upon Congress to:
- Pass the Afghan Adjustment Act to guarantee that all evacuees are able to access the US immigration system with a full pathway to citizenship.
- Adequately fund the State Department and all associated US government agencies to meet this moment.
- Integrate specific language into the SIV eligibility criteria that includes Afghan Special Operations Forces (graduates of ASOSE courses) and the family of those otherwise eligible.
- Ensure the apportionment of National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) funds that prioritize the evaluation of the mental health and moral injury impact on those Veterans, frontline civilians, and others who participated in the Afghan conflict or subsequent evacuation efforts and that provide viable solutions for their long-term care.
- Through the NDAA, authorize a fund for the State Department, via USAID, to administer a program dedicated to funding private and non-profit humanitarian efforts providing support such as food, water, safe housing, and transportation of evacuees. Efforts funded through this program should be prohibited from earning a profit and only cover reasonable, allocable, and allowable costs related to services and related supplies.
Our coalition stands ready and willing to support the political leaders that we know will honor their commitment to our Afghan allies and other partners who remain behind.
Now is not the time to retreat to predictable partisan corners. This is a time to stand together, united in our shared belief that the promise of America remains worth preserving. The Afghans who stood alongside our troops, diplomats, and other American interests in Afghanistan have been, and will forever remain, welcome in our communities.
We made promises to these individuals and their families — and to our servicemembers and Veterans — that their service would be honored, and it is incumbent upon us to uphold that promise. This is the time to demonstrate, by the power of our example, the very best of America.
The #AfghanEvac Coalition remains steadfast in its commitment to our continued partnership and to assisting the US Government in achieving the steps outlined herein. We would welcome a meeting with you and your teams for further discussion.