WASHINGTON – The House on a voice vote approved legislation that would increase the number of visas available to Afghans who assisted the United States in Operation Enduring Freedom.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, spoke in favor of raising the cap. She was one of three House members who have recently returned from combat who urged colleagues Wednesday to back the bill.
“These Afghan interpreters and their families put their lives on the line right along with our troops. They became a member of our team,” Gabbard said. “The very least we can do is take this small step and honor our commitment.”
Gabbard, a Captain in the Hawaii National Guard, served in Iraq.
The bill would increase the number of Afghan Special Immigrant Visas available this year from 3,000 to 4,000. The State Department expects to reach the 3,000 cap by August and has another 300 applicants waiting for additional visas. The visas are available to Afghanis and their family members if they worked with U.S. troops there. Many served as translators.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., an Air Force veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, also spoke in favor of the bill.
“Many Afghans who served with American forces are now hunted by the Taliban and other terrorist groups. Adding 1,000 visas this year may be the difference between life and death for some of these brave Afghans particularly as America withdraws our troops from that country,” Cotton said.
Cotton said the program is also critical for U.S. troops who may need the support from local nationals in future conflicts.
“If we don’t stand with these brave Afghans now, how will our troops in the future get the support they need?” he said.