More than 80 House members called on President Joe Biden to ramp up evacuations of Afghan allies still stranded in Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal last year.
“Our Afghan allies risked everything to aid in our mission in their country, and it is a moral imperative that we keep the promises we made,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter sent to the White House on Wednesday. “We must do more to evacuate those remaining as quickly and safely as possible.”
Thousands of Afghans facing persecution under Taliban rule remain stranded in the country, including around 35,000 who have applied for humanitarian parole — a status granted to foreign nationals without visas for pressing humanitarian reasons.
In the letter, the lawmakers — all Democrats except for Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., an Afghanistan veteran —outlined suggestions for how agencies can speed up processing of Afghans applying for relief from overseas and facilitate their journey to the U.S.
They called on the State Department to allow Afghans whose applications for humanitarian parole were rejected to be automatically referred to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, which guarantees permanent protection in the U.S. but can take months or even years.
Multiple lawmakers from the House and Senate in recent months have flagged concerns with procedures for adjudicating humanitarian parole, citing reports that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has imposed “unrealistic requirements” on parole applicants.
In the letter led by Rep. William Keating, D-Mass., the lawmakers called on the administration to create additional overseas “lilypad” locations in third countries to facilitate smoother travel for evacuees.
They also pressed for government agencies to establish mental health supports for “those impacted by these events,” including the Afghans themselves, American volunteers, military personnel and veterans.
Congress has provided significant bipartisan backing to the Afghan resettlement effort: appropriators provided $6.3 billion last September and another $7 billion in December to accommodate tens of thousands of Afghans evacuated in the wake of the country’s collapse.
“Congress stands ready to give the administration the tools it needs to complete this mission,” the lawmakers wrote.
In a Wednesday announcement marking the final departures of Afghan nationals from Fort Pickett, Va., one of the domestic military bases that has housed evacuees, officials said they were willing to continue resettlement from overseas. More than 76,000 people have already been resettled under Operation Allies Welcome, the government’s name for its broad resettlement effort.
“We are prepared to continue welcoming additional qualifying Afghans over the coming weeks and months,” the announcement said.