WASHINGTON — As President Biden’s September deadline for ending the long war in Afghanistan approaches, a bipartisan coalition in Congress is stepping up efforts to ensure that Afghans who face retribution there for working alongside American troops and personnel are able to immigrate to the United States.
The group of Republicans and Democrats, many of them military members or veterans who have worked with translators, drivers and fixers in Afghanistan and other combat zones, is racing to put in place legislation to help the “Afghan allies,” as they are often called, before American troops go home, leaving those allies unprotected against revenge attacks by the Taliban. The lawmakers want to make it easier for the Afghans to qualify for special visas, to expedite the process of obtaining one and to get them out of Afghanistan as soon as possible while they await authorization to live legally in the United States.
More than 18,000 Afghans who have worked as interpreters, drivers, engineers, security guards and embassy clerks for the United States during the war are stuck in a bureaucratic morass after applying for Special Immigrant Visas — available to people who face threats because of work for the United States government — with some waiting as long as six or seven years for their applications to be processed.
The number of backlogged cases doesn’t count family members, an additional 53,000 people, or the anticipated surge in applications as American troops withdraw.
“We’re frustrated here as lawmakers, especially those of us who served and want to help the people who helped us,” said Representative Brad Wenstrup, Republican of Ohio and a colonel in the Army Reserve, who worked with Iraqi translators when he served in Iraq as a combat surgeon in 2005 and 2006.
In recent weeks, Mr. Wenstrup said he had been thinking of the Iraqis he served with — guys who liked to sell art and bootleg movies at the Army base — including two who were killed in surprise attacks near Abu Ghraib, and a third who was ultimately able to get his visa, and is now U.S. citizen and successful cardiologist in Ohio.
“They become your brothers and sisters,” he said.
Mr. Wenstrup is part of the Honoring Our Promises Working Group — made up of 10 Democrats and six Republicans — that spearheaded legislation introduced on Thursday that would expedite Special Immigrant Visas from Afghanistan and expand the number available to 19,000, from 11,000. The group is also lobbying the Biden administration in an improbable bid to arrange for a mass evacuation of Afghan applicants, perhaps to the U.S. territory Guam, while the visas can be processed.
The bill would expand the universe of eligible Afghans by removing what its proponents call “burdensome” application requirements, including a “credible sworn statement” of a specific threat and proof of a “sensitive and trusted” job. Instead, the measure would in effect stipulate that any Afghan who…