by Peter Urban Stephens
July 30, 2014
WASHINGTON — The House on a voice vote approved legislation that would increase the number of visas available to Afghans who assisted the United States in Operation Enduring Freedom.
Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, spoke in favor of raising the cap. He was one of three House members who have served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan who urged colleagues Wednesday to back the bill.
“This program was designed to provide safe refuge to the many Afghans who put their lives on the line and served with our troops during Operation Enduring Freedom. I served personally with several Afghans who literally bled for us,” said Cotton, an Army veteran.
The bill would increase the number of Afghan Special Immigrant Visas available this year from 3,000 to 4,000. The State Department expects to reach the 3,000 cap by August and has another 300 applicants waiting for additional visas. The visas are available to Afghans and their family members if they worked with U.S. troops there. Many served as translators.
“Indeed many Afghans who served with American forces are now hunted by the Taliban and other terrorist groups. Adding 1,000 visas this year may be the difference between life and death for some of these brave Afghans particularly as America withdraws our troops from that country,” he said.
Cotton said the program is also critical to national security and for U.S. troops who may need the support from local nationals in future conflicts.
“If we don’t stand with these brave Afghans now, how will our troops in the future get the support they need?” he said.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., an Air Force veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, a Captain in the Hawaii National Guard who served in Iraq, also spoke in favor of the bill.
“These Afghan interpreters and their families put their lives on the line right along with our troops. They became a member of our team,” Gabbard said. “The very least we can do is take this small step and honor our commitment.”