March 27, 2014

Kaine Urges State Department To Expedite Processing Of Visas For Afghan Interpreters

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine urged the Department of State to expedite the processing of Special Immigrant Visa program for Afghan nationals who served as interpreters for U.S. troops during the past 12 years of war. The program was created through the 2009 Afghan Allies Protection Act, but bureaucratic processing delays have left interpreters and their families waiting in dangerous situations for months or even years.

“Because they are so visible in their communities, interpreters have become targets for violence,” Kaine wrote. “Many have been threatened, beaten or killed by militants; many more report being in constant danger from armed groups and the Taliban. … I encourage the Department of State to ensure that resources and personnel are allocated so these Afghan nationals who have selflessly assisted our servicemembers in their mission can begin a life in a safe place, free from constant threat.”

“Many U.S. and coalition service members personally know how vital the work of Afghan interpreters has been to our mission in Afghanistan and to ensuring a better future for the Afghan people,” Kaine continued. Last year, Kaine’s staff was able to assist Captain Matthew Zeller with his efforts to help Janis Shinwari, an Afghan interpreter who saved his life, secure his Special Immigrant Visa. In November 2013, Kaine was proud to welcome Shinwari and his family to their new home in Alexandria, Virginia. 

Full text of the letter:

March 24, 2014

The Honorable John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C.  20520

Secretary Kerry,

I write to bring to your attention concerns regarding the Special Immigrant Visa process for Afghan nationals.  For over a decade, thousands of Afghan nationals have served as interpreters, assisting U.S. troops within Afghanistan and serving as vital cultural links between U.S. soldiers and the Afghan people.

Because they are so visible in their communities, interpreters have become targets for violence. Many have been threatened, beaten or killed by militants; many more report being in constant danger from armed groups and the Taliban.

The United States operates a specific visa program for Afghan nationals who served as interpreters and would like to relocate to the U.S. due to safety concerns – similar to the program in place for Iraqi interpreters. This Special Immigrant Visa program was created through legislation in 2009 (the Afghan Allies Protection Act), but thousands of interpreters remain in processing and indeterminate bureaucratic delays. The process is complicated for applicants and these bureaucratic delays leave interpreters waiting in dangerous situations for months or even years.

In November 2013, I was proud to welcome an Afghan interpreter, Janis Shinwari, to his new home in Alexandria, Virginia after his Special Immigrant Visa was granted. Though his family was able to start a new life in our country, the process for many others remains stalled.

My office has been in contact with personnel in the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan about many cases sponsored by Virginian servicemembers which have endured months of waiting without additional information on their status. These delays have become of increasing concern as we drawdown U.S. forces and visa applicants are more and more concerned for their safety and that of their families.

I encourage the Department of State to ensure that resources and personnel are allocated so these Afghan nationals who have selflessly assisted our servicemembers in their mission can begin a life in a safe place, free from constant threat.  Many U.S. and coalition service members personally know how vital the work of Afghan interpreters has been to our mission in Afghanistan and to ensuring a better future for the Afghan people.  I look forward to working with you to ensure the Department of State is expediting the processing of Special Immigrant Visas for Afghan interpreters. 

Sincerely,
Tim Kaine

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