Why we should pass the Afghan Adjustment Act
In 2011, as part of my nine years in the U.S. Air Force, I deployed to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. Part of our mission was humanitarian care of wounded and ill Afghans.
As a radiologist, I read X-rays and CT scans, and I performed procedures on patients. My job as a physician in Afghanistan was made possible by interpreters who helped me communicate with patients and family members. While some of the interpreters were Afghan-Americans, some were Afghans who risked their lives by being affiliated with the U.S. government.
My strongest memories of deployment are of taking care of Afghan children, including a 3-year-old girl who had to undergo a procedure in a room full of American strangers with uniforms on. She was terrified, and I remember everyone’s relief when the interpreter entered the room and quickly calmed her. Without the interpreter I could not have done the procedure. Other interpreters explained medical procedures to enemy combatants who were worried they would be tortured — and without these interpreters the hospital would have been in chaos.
Like so many veterans, I watched in horror at the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan 15 months ago. The horrible footage that Americans saw during those days sparked a mental health crisis among veterans of the war on terror and among Vietnam veterans who had a similar evacuation experience decades before.
The tragic events during the withdrawal from Afghanistan were only the beginning of ongoing hardship for nearly 80,000 left-behind allies like the interpreters I worked with. Without financial or administrative support from the U.S. government, hundreds of volunteer case managers have taken on the work of finding safe houses, food and firewood for left-behind allies, and helping them navigate a slow, complex visa and evacuation system.
Starting in 2001, over 70,000 Afghan soldiers and security personnel lost their lives in the war on terror, more than the number of U.S. service members lost in Vietnam. Afghans who collaborated with the U.S. military and government quickly began to face threats of torture and murder, prompting bipartisan legislation to protect our allies through Special Immigrant Visa programs.
However, many Afghans who made it to American soil in August 2021 did not have time to go through the SIV process. Instead, they were granted temporary status through Humanitarian Parole (HP), a program that follows the same rigorous vetting as SIV. For many of them, HP will soon expire, and currently there is no pathway to permanent status.
After past conflicts in Cuba, Vietnam and Iraq, Congress was able to garner bipartisan support to grant permanent status to our wartime allies. Veterans groups and other volunteers continue to urge Congress to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act, which would grant permanent and legal status instead of adding them to the backlog of over 400,000 asylum cases.
While some of our leaders are against all forms of immigration, most Americans are able to understand the strategic importance and moral responsibility of honoring our promise to wartime allies. Congress failed to pass this legislation in 2022. Please contact your congressional representative today and urge them to make our allies a priority in 2023. A familiar line captures the honor that veterans desperately want to live with: “No man left behind means something to the rest of us.”
Carrie Carlin is an Air Force veteran who works in Grants Pass as a radiologist. She volunteers with the Fletcher Afghan Evacuation and Resettlement Group and has collaborated with Mormon Women for Ethical Government. She was raised and currently lives in Ashland.