The one-year anniversary of the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban was celebrated in the streets of Kabul this week — the economic hardships and desperate conditions now being suffered by the Afghan people notwithstanding.
In contrast, the anniversary went largely unnoted here. The chaotic withdrawal of the last US troops and the hasty evacuation of tens of thousands of endangered Afghans at the end of two decades of American involvement were not a proud chapter in our nation’s history.
But on Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group in Congress used the moment to draw attention to America’s “moral obligations” to some 76,000 Afghan evacuees who were brought to the United States during that airlift, many of whom had worked alongside US forces or with government contractors and whose lives would have been endangered had they not been rescued. Their reprieve under grants of humanitarian parole, however, is a relatively brief one — only a year or two.
So last week, that congressional group, which includes Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, filed the Afghan Adjustment Act, which would provide a path to legal permanent residency and pave the way for most to receive a green card. The legislation has the backing of dozens of civic and religious groups, many of which have provided support to help resettle thousands who landed here with little more than the clothes on their backs.
An identical bill was filed in the House.
“We must keep our commitment to provide safe, legal refuge to those who willingly put their lives on the line to support the U.S. mission in Afghanistan,” Democratic Representative Earl Blumenauer, co-sponsor of the House bill with Republican Peter Meijer, said in a statement. US Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts is also among its co-sponsors.
As the sponsors point out, the precedents for the bill are many, most following war-time evacuations such as the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War and the end of US military actions in Iraq, but also after the Castro takeover in Cuba.
The legislation would also serve a practical purpose, relieving pressure on already overburdened immigration systems that might otherwise handle Afghan refugees. For instance, there is an enormous backlog some 70,000 applications for Special Immigrant Visa status. According to the Department of Homeland Security, at least 40,000 Afghans were SIV applicants or eligible for SIV status or immediate family members of those eligible.
Others might be eligible for refugee status under the US Refugee Admission Program, but that has a backlog of some 1.4 million cases.
This bill would prevent Afghans here on humanitarian parole status from losing their jobs or being deported to a third country while their applications are pending. It would also include those Afghans deemed “at-risk,” who have not yet arrived here but may be sheltering in other countries.
Those granted humanitarian parole have already been carefully screened and vetted on US military bases abroad and again upon their arrival, and many have spent months housed on military bases here too as part of their resettlement process. The bill’s sponsors note that under their legislation Homeland Security would run additional background checks, including a second round of biometric analysis and in-person interviews.
Keep in mind, of course, that nearly all left during days of unrelenting chaos — in which our own government’s unpreparedness played a major role. Some had to destroy the very documents that would prove their identities and document their work for the US government in order to save their lives as they attempted to escape through Taliban-controlled checkpoints.
The second round of DHS vetting was an attempt to bring more Republicans on board in the hope that Congress could pass the bill before the term of humanitarian parole expires for tens of thousands who remain in limbo while their visa applications are pending.
So, yes, those who stood and served beside our own military, those who risked their lives during that service and again as they made their way to Kabul airport, are owed something more than a heap of red tape as they sort their way through a never-ending process that would allow them to stay. This is a debt still unpaid, a moral obligation incurred over two decades.
The clock is ticking down the days now until next August and the expiration of those humanitarian parole dates. People who have lived through years of war and uncertainty surely deserve a permanent welcome.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.