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Veterans accuse Congress of abandoning Afghan allies after help for refugees is left out of spending bill

The opposition of Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, helped torpedo the proposal, refugee groups and veterans organizations said.
Refugees walk through the departure terminal to a bus at Dulles International Airport after being evacuated from Kabul following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan on August 31, 2021 in Dulles, Virginia. The Department of Defense announced yesterday that the U.S. military had completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan, ending 20 years of war.
Refugees walk through Dulles International Airport in Virginia on Aug. 31, 2021, after being evacuated from Kabul following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images file

Refugee advocates and veterans accused Congress of abandoning Afghans who fled to the U.S. after a bill designed to resolve the legal status of tens of thousands of Afghan refugees was left out of a year-end spending bill.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers had pushed for the Afghan Adjustment Act to be included in the omnibus spending package, but Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley’s opposition helped torpedo the proposal, refugee groups and veterans organizations said.

More than 30 retired senior U.S. military officers, including three former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, endorsed the bill, as did eight former U.S. ambassadors to Afghanistan.

Kim Staffieri, a co-founder and the executive director of the Association of Wartime Allies, a nonprofit group that helps Afghans who worked for the U.S. government apply for special immigrant visas, called it “another slap in the face” to Afghan allies and U.S. military veterans. “It’s unconscionable,” she said.

During the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, more than 70,000 Afghans were flown to the U.S. The Afghan refugees were granted a two-year temporary “humanitarian parole,” which has left them in legal limbo and unable to work. The bill would have granted Afghan refugees a pathway to permanent legal residency before their parole expires.

Congress has previously passed similar legislation for Vietnamese, Cuban and other refugees.

The bill failed to win approval in Congress as the Taliban regime ruling Afghanistan announced a decree that women will not be allowed to attend university.

To address concerns raised by some Republican lawmakers, sponsors of the bill added language to ensure the Afghan refugees undergo thorough security vetting by U.S. authorities. But the proposal failed to win support from 10 Republican senators needed to add it to the omnibus spending package.

Asked about a lack of GOP support for the bill, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told reporters that it was an “important issue” but blamed Democratic lawmakers for how they handled the omnibus spending bill.

He said that “there were many worthwhile things that didn’t make it that ought to be addressed” and added, “I think it’s important.”

Grassley, of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said through his office that he opposed how the Biden administration had used “humanitarian parole” to cover such a large group of refugees and that the bill failed to sufficiently address concerns about security vetting of the refugees.

“The administration’s failure to properly vet Afghan evacuees throughout this process has resulted in individuals being flagged for security concerns after they’d already arrived into the United States,” Grassley’s office said.

“The Senate has received a series of classified briefings on this issue, and Sen. Grassley has been outspoken about the need for transparency so all Americans can know the full scope of these security concerns in the United States.”

Evacuate Our Allies, a coalition of faith organizations, refugee advocates and veterans groups, accused Congress of hypocrisy in failing to pass the bill.

The coalition said lawmakers who opposed the bill, including Grassley, “want to forget the debt we owe those who fought alongside Americans, whether it was in battle or building democracy and respect for rights in Afghanistan.”

“The world will not forget this intransigence, and the U.S. will in the future have fewer allies, a grave threat to our national security,” the coalition said in a statement.

Refugee advocates worry it will be more difficult to rally support for the bill in the next Congress, when Republicans will assume control of the House with a narrow majority.