Protect lives, U.S. credibility: Pass the Keeping Our Promise to Our Afghan Allies Act
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Last week, the State Department announced that the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, which offers a thoroughly vetted pathway to immigration for Iraqi and Afghan interpreters who served alongside U.S. forces in their countries, would cease to offer interviews to new applicants after the month of March. In a strong, bipartisan display of support for American values, Sens. John McCainJohn McCainMcCain: Putin a greater threat than ISIS Trump’s defense spending boom that wasn’t Defense hawks gird for budget brawl MORE (R-Ariz.), Jack ReedJack ReedTaking the easy layup: Why brain cancer patients depend on it Intel chief quiet on whether Trump asked him to deny Russia evidence Dem senators push for probe of Sessions over Comey firing MORE (D-R.I.), Thom TillisThom R. TillisNavy leaders defend Trump's lackluster ship budget Industry pushes lawmakers to build 355-ship Navy Congress should pass the GOP's RAC Act to protect Dreamers MORE (R-N.C.), and Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenSenate panel approves Scott Brown as NZ ambassador Senators pan WH proposal to cut airport security programs, hike ticket fees Dem senator: 'One of our closest allies' expressed concern about intelligence sharing MORE (D-N.H.) put forth the Keeping Our Promise to Our Afghan Allies Act, creating an additional 2,500 visas.

These senators have the right approach, because the SIV program is a matter of life or death for those who have already risked so much for us abroad.

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These interpreters put their lives on the line for American values, often even picking up a weapon to defend the U.S. forces they were with when the shooting started. That kind of risk, courage, and sacrifice doesn’t escape notice—especially among those who oppose it. Even today, interpreters and others who ‘collaborated’ with American forces have their pictures and personal information circulated among extremist groups, with bounties on their heads and the heads of their families.

To stand for what America stands for is to accept that kind of risk, and when we go back on the deal, the world takes notice. Why would people volunteer their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to a country that promises them a fair shot at opportunity and security but then takes it away when the dust settles? A failure to continue the SIV program sends a signal the world over: You can stand by America, but there’s no guarantee that America will stand by you.

We know that we’re better than that.

An interpreter I worked with on my first combat deployment, in Iraq, exemplified the courage and commitment of so many. A 20 year-old woman named Wissam served alongside my unit, helping us navigate foreign physical and cultural terrain, building our credibility among the local population, and giving us critical early warning of IED attacks provided by the Iraqi civilians who took her at her word that we were there to help as best we could.

But despite her bravery and her service, Wissam won’t see the better life she fought for. In May 2004, a group of gunmen from the Mahdi army followed her and two other translators from our base, murdering them before they could reach their homes.

That’s why the SIV program is so important. It isn’t just our credibility on the world stage that is at risk—it’s the lives of these individuals and the people that they love, too.

The SIV program is the best of America: a simple commitment that we will stand by those willing to fight for our shared values. The bipartisan support for the program in general and this legislation in particular signals that even in a time of deeply polarized politics, true expressions of American values like service, sacrifice, and loyalty cut through. An atmosphere of angst and suspicion, particularly surrounding questions of immigration, must not be allowed to overcome the promise on which we are honor-bound to deliver.

Congress should support the Keeping Our Promise to Our Afghan Allies Act and move to create an additional 2,500 Special Immigrant Visas immediately. We owe those who stood by us the opportunity and security of a life in America—they have earned it, and more importantly, many of their lives depend on it.

Michael Breen is the President and CEO of Truman National Security Project and a former U.S. Army officer.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.