Thousands of Afghans risked their lives in recent years to help American troops on the ground in Afghanistan. But now the US is not keeping up its end of the bargain.
When forces are on the ground, local interpreters are an invaluable resource. They help troops communicate with the people who live in the area and thus better navigate the dangerous and delicate situations that can quickly become a matter of life and death for American military personnel. After providing this crucial support, many of those local interpreters then become targets of various threats themselves.
We’ve talked about it before here on the blog, how interpreters in war zones often suffer retaliations in the form of murder, torture, kidnapping, intimidation and/or other crimes. Afghanistan is certainly no exception in this regard. A number of former Afghan interpreters have met their demise as a result of aiding American forces.
Recognizing this, in 2009 Congress created a resettlement visa program for Afghan interpreters. The problem is that those initial good intentions have continuously fallen short of aiding the interpreters the program was designed to help.
Not only has the application process been drawn out for years, leaving many former Afghan interpreters in precarious situations, but the US government just keeps making it more and more complicated and adding even more barriers.
The New York Times recently called out the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department’s decision to retroactively apply a new rule that requires applicants under the visa program to have worked for the United States for two years, instead of the one year previously required. Applicants who have been waiting for a visa for years are now suddenly disqualified.
Is this how the US wants to reward those Afghans who risked their lives to help American troops? Death by a thousand paper cuts if retaliating locals don’t get to them first?
Full disclosure: I am vice chairman of RedT. Our mission is to protect interpreters and translators in high-risk settings. Check out our site to learn more.
UPDATE: Due to public pressure, the State Department has reversed its decision! It nixed the rule changes that would have made many former Afghan interpreters ineligible for the Special Immigrant Visa program. Kudos to the State Department for setting this right.