Advocates call on Senate to approve amendment giving Afghan evacuees path to legal residency

As the Senate continues its debate over a national security supplemental funding bill, advocates are calling on lawmakers to approve an amendment that would give Afghans who were evacuated during the US’ withdrawal of Afghanistan a path to permanent legal residency in the US.

The amendment, introduced by Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Republican Sen. Jerry Moran on Friday, would “allow Afghan allies to apply for permanent legal residency to provide certainty as they build their lives in the United States after undergoing thorough vetting,” according to a news release from Klobuchar.

It is based on the bipartisan Afghan Adjustment Act, which was reintroduced last year. The amendment was introduced Friday with a list of co-sponsors that included Republican Sens. Roger Wicker, Lindsey Graham and Thom Tillis, as well as Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal, Chris Coons and Jeanne Shaheen.

Speaking on the Senate floor Friday, Klobuchar said there are roughly 80,000 Afghan refugees in the US who “served as interpreters, they served as intel gatherers, they put their own lives and their families’ lives at risk.” The amendment has “a heavy-duty vetting process,” Klobuchar said, adding that “the vast majority of these people are here already.”

“Are we going to send these people who stood with our troops back to the arms of the Taliban?” Klobuchar said. “Or are we going to do what’s right?”

Shawn VanDiver, the founder of #AfghanEvac — a coalition of organizations that assisted in evacuating Afghans during the 2021 withdrawal — told CNN the war in Afghanistan and the “obligation that we have to our allies is not a Republican problem or a Democrat problem.”

“It’s an American problem. It’s an American obligation. And our allies are watching. Future conflicts that we go into will look back to how we handled the end of the Afghan war and what we did with our Afghan allies,” VanDiver said.

It’s unclear whether the amendment will get a vote to be included in the supplemental bill, but advocates say it’s a critical next step for Afghans who have been in limbo since arriving in the US after the chaotic withdrawal.

While the amendment has bipartisan backing, at least one Republican is expected to object to it. Sen. Tom Cotton, an Army veteran and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, “disagrees with some elements of Sen. Klobuchar’s bill,” a person familiar with his thinking told CNN.

Among those objections are the “lack of parole reform,” protection for Afghans he says did not work with US forces, and “the potential for abuse of virtually unlimited and unvetted family migration,” the person familiar said.

“Sen. Cotton supports helping our Afghan allies and partners, but this specific bill did little to address his concerns,” the person said. The source also said Cotton supports “a version of this bill and even has his own version of this bill,” referencing a bill he introduced in July 2023.

VanDiver criticized Cotton directly in posts on X on Friday night, saying he is “abandoning our allies” after Cotton and his team had “worked to get the very folks this would help here to the US.”

VanDiver later told CNN that Cotton is using Afghans “as political pawns.”

“I remember August 2021. I remember Tom Cotton talking about this, helping people, asking veterans groups for help to get the people that he was working with through the airport gates and on the planes,” VanDiver said. “And all of those people that he helped, who are here and waiting for the Afghan Adjustment Act or the adjustment of status — he’s abandoning them.”

Moran, who is the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said Saturday that many Afghan allies are “still overseas, and those who made it to the US face uncertainty as to whether they will be granted permanent residency.”

“I urge my colleagues to support the inclusion of the Afghan Adjustment Act in the national security supplemental to grant Afghan refugees stability, bolster our national security and send a message to US partners and allies that we will honor our word,” Moran said.

Patrick Murray, the director of national legislative services for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said in a statement that the VFW “wants to see those Afghan allies who stood alongside our troops taken care of and provided the safety they deserve.”

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