Families board an Air Force C-17 Globemaster at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Monday. Marine Corps photo via REUTERS.
In April, the federal government announced “Uniting for Ukraine” which greatly reduces the requirements for Humanitarian Parole, a legal pathway to flee war-torn countries for the United States.
It eased entry requirements and waived application filing fees. If any Ukrainians had already paid those fees, they would be refunded. In the first three weeks alone, the government processed over 6,000 Ukrainian applications, far more than the number of Afghan applications processed in the nine months since the fall of Afghanistan.
I fully support these changes for Ukrainians. Time is critical, and it is ridiculous to ask people to pay thousands of non-refundable dollars for the privilege of simply applying to save their lives.
Yet, I cannot be happy about the announcement. In fact, it is a humiliating kick in the gut.
As an Afghanistan veteran, the rapid Taliban takeover was a terrible event for me to watch, stirring up old trauma that I had brought home. Like many veterans, I soon became involved in the effort to save Afghan allies who were abandoned in the chaotic evacuation.
I am helping an Afghan who worked for U.S. forces for eight years, including on my base while I was there. Let’s call him Ahmad. Soon after the fall of Kabul, the Taliban visited his home in search of him. The Taliban are systematically hunting down and killing our allies.
The fight to save our allies is costly. We fight old trauma and lose sleep from worry and from trying to become amateur immigration experts in our spare time. This is in addition to our jobs, families, and other commitments. It is also literally costly, taking our families’ funds to support our allies, pay for immigration attorneys, passports, visas, and travel expenses.
Veteran groups run safe houses, build food networks, share information, and strive to protect our allies from afar. But we often feel we are on our own. America has moved on. We’re still in the fight.
In Ahmad’s case, we filed for Humanitarian Parole, his best chance for technical reasons. It was cumbersome. I contributed my own money and ran a fundraiser to cover attorney’s fees and filing fees. It took months, dangerous months for Ahmad, to meet the fundraising goal.
In the end, the generosity of family, friends, and strangers raised the $13,000 needed for Ahmad and his family. We sent in the required 519 pages of documents, and $6,000 in filing fees to the U.S. government. Just a few weeks later, the U.S. government announced that it would streamline the overly burdensome program and refund fees. Just not for Afghans.
Instead, as we were preparing Ahmad’s package, the government announced that it would require a higher standard for Afghan applicants than it does for any other in the world. In early May, Congress declined a chance to include protections for Afghan evacuees in a bill. In late May, the government filed a motion seeking to end a 2020 court-order requiring a plan for promptly processing Afghan applications.
In June, it was reported that 90% of Afghan Humanitarian Parole applicants have been denied since August. Compare that to expedited approval of thousands of Ukrainians. Our government seemingly works to cut away any remaining lifelines while we veterans desperately try to hold enough threads together for hope.
Ukrainians deserve all the protections they are getting. They are innocent. So are Afghans. What am I supposed to tell Ahmad? That risking his life for our side during war was not enough? That he and his family, coming from the poorest country on the planet, must pay thousands? That he must provide proof beyond that required from any other country? That Ukrainians, who have not fought for the U.S., don’t have to do any of this?
Why? It is inexplicable, literally. The final betrayal. It dishonors Ahmad’s service to the United States. It dishonors my own, adding moral injury to my burdens. The number of Ukrainian applications processed in only three weeks shows what is possible and how intentional the betrayal of Afghans must be.
If you claim to support Afghanistan veterans, you must contact your elected officials to demand that the same immigration reliefs apply to Afghan allies as they do to Ukrainians and to add resources to speed processing. It only takes you minutes to do this and every dangerous day counts for Ahmad.
The idea that people like Ahmad might be threats is ludicrous. If Ahmad wanted to harm Americans, he had plenty of opportunities during the war. He risked his life for us instead.
The strangers who contributed to my fundraiser gave me hope that we veterans are not entirely alone in caring about what happens to our Afghan allies. I hope you are willing to write an email to help us.
James Seddon is a retired Navy officer, published author and resident of Southern California.