A highlight from Afghan refugees face an uncertain future

Vox's The Weeds


Communities. People often. Ask me if prosecuting the mob is like the movies. Well i can tell you this. The real thing is much more interesting. I'm elliot hoenig former bob prosecutor and host of the new podcast up against the mob up against the mob lifts the veil on the world's most secretive criminal organization la cosa nostra. New episodes dropped every wednesday. Starting september eighth. Listen and follow up against the mob on apple podcasts. Spotify or your favorite podcast app. Hello to another episode of the weeds on the box media podcast network. I met in glitziest. My guest today. Nicaragua is vox dot coms immigration reporter and wanted to talk about the situation in afghanistan which has a lot of aspects if you wanna see me on twitter dot com defending the bite administration You're welcome to their I think i'm the kind of big farm policy issues. What i wanted to talk about with. Nicole is something more specific. Which is the situation with afghans who are or might be eligible for different kinds of refugee status in the united states or elsewhere at what has been done to help them and not just the logistics of the evacuation but the sort of much larger policy context of getting them that approvals and the other options there. So nicole welcome. Thanks for having him that. So freeze that many of us have become familiar with lately is s. i v. Which is related to this. Can you like what is that. What is an siv. where does that come from. Yeah so like the sap program was created in two thousand six. It stands for special immigration visa and it was really born out of the combined. Lobbying efforts of refugee experts use government employees who worked in iraq and afghanistan and also just american soldiers and marines and the program is basically designed to bring over mostly people who worked as interpreters. Us military but also others who were directly employed by the us government and get them visas. Allow them to eventually become citizens of the us and basically it's just sort of a means of protecting those people it makes sense both diplomatically and just from a humanitarian standpoint. I think for a lot of people when this program was started it was seen as something that was very personal to these advocates. Who were working for it in the sense that you know these are people that they had worked side by side with and knew personally and these are colleagues who are being issued death threats and there were bullets showing up at their doorstep so it really was a sympathetic group that pass administration sort of were able to zero in on and find these people to be the most worthy of protection. And as i mentioned it was like something it was implemented for rockies as well and then later for afghans yay and i mean i i remember this from the iraq context and as you say it's sympathetic group. The only sympathetic sort of people in iraq or afghanistan but they had a unique relationship with american soldiers and veterans because when you work side by side with people in the field and stressful dangerous situations. There's a bond that that creates and there was a special emphasis on the idea that people in that situation needed help and also pragmatically right. I mean we. There was an ongoing demand ride four interpreters and other assistance and so sort of showing that we are able to help people. It's i mean it's the same as the witness protection program but it has some of the same ideas behind it right if we wanted iraqis to cooperate with us. We needed to show that we were able to do things to save them and their families. Yeah and i guess was also relevant like beyond just the conflict in iraq know i think. Us military leaders supported this program because it was a show of faith on their part that you know if you work with the us government. We will have your back but it's also sort of like politically expedient right because you kind of have this finite population that the us can point to you in terms of being the most deserving quote unquote of us assistance. And i think after vietnam. Us officials had tried to set parameters around. Just who should be prioritized for evacuations. But in practice it ended up just being that they airlifted. Pretty much anyone who wanted to get on a plane but now you know. The vitamins has committed to getting out american citizens permanent residents and then these siv's but it's also kind of made like a loser commitment to getting out other vulnerable afghans like group. It's sort of at this point. Pretty undefined but many people. I think are taking to me you know. Women's rights and lgbtq activists employees of ngos and media organizations et cetera. But yes i think this population given that there is a finite number of them about eighty. Eight thousand both like a prime applicants and their families. It's sort of easy for the. Us be able to point to this population and say either who. We're going to be able to protect right. It's a it's a substantial number of people but it's also a finite quantity right in a way that someone who is alarmed about the taliban taking over the country is like that's a very expansive group but so what is the eligibility exactly for this immigration policy. Visa rules is like full of fussy details. So what what do you need to have done to be eligible for that or awry even more to the point like what do you need to actually get a visa. Because this difference between in theory you could get one and in practice you get one race. There is kind of like an arduous fourteen step application process that involves significant documentation that critically includes a recommendation letter from an applicant's like senior. Us citizen advisors. They really do need to have worked directly for the us government The minimum period is one year but that recently changed it was previously two years but the problem is that a lot of afghans who would otherwise be eligible for the program have had difficulty obtaining that recommendation letter especially in cases where they were working as contractors. Because you know they may not have known. whoever is the senior. us citizens supervisor overseeing project and so just even knowing that person is is somewhat of a difficulty but then you know even if they can kind of gather those required documents. There's a really lengthy wait time before. They're ultimately approved for a visa under federal law. They're required to be processed within nine months but in practice it's always been longer than that and the trump administration actually kind of actively stonewall the program meaning that there wasn't a single sab process between march twenty twenty and january twenty twenty but it's still even with biden sort of reprioritising. The program still taking about two years to process the application so at this point you know for people who are still waiting in afghanistan like they can't afford to wait for as long as all that you vetting we'll take and as part of this. They have to undergo various background. Checks and security vetting which you know. Some people are saying those things should be. It should be allowed to come directly to the us. But like i think there are some obvious political reasons why the by administration doesn't necessarily want that to happen at this point. I mean this is crucial because if we look at the situation in afghanistan there is a. There's a calm period in the war for most of two thousand twenty and most kony twenty one when trump has this truce in place but the taliban were us troops are scheduled to withdraw. The airport is open in kabul. And like this would be the time. The final months of the trump administration the first months of the biden administration. When people would be saying like. Oh shit. I've got to get this paperwork together. But they weren't processing the visas during that time and biden trump. Not at all and then biden. I guess got it back going but it wasn't like it wasn't like a crash program. It wasn't like okay. We've got four months to like get as much of this done as humanly possible. Yeah and i think that's created a lot of frustration on the part of like immigrant advocates and ex military groups because you know the administration spin able to process about five thousand applications since by took office but that was never like at that pace. It was never going to be enough given that. They're you know. Eight thousand people in the application pipeline. There were never going to be able to process that many people before the august thirty first withdrawal deadline so they kind of were putting their faith in this program as sort of the primary means be able to get vulnerable afghans out but there wasn't really any urgency on the part of the administration and i think a lot of people had presented on the side had presented the administration with a plan to get them out more quickly but and this was months ago in april may but i think ultimately what happened was that maybe the vitamins station thought that the afghan army would be able to buy them some extra time so that they continue processing these visas after the withdrawal deadline.

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