Shaheen Welcomes Support from Distinguished Military Leaders for Effort to Extend the Visa Program for Afghan Interpreters Who Have Supported the U.S. Mission

September 07, 2016

**Letter Signed by 36 Distinguished Military Leaders--Including Two Medal of Honor Recipients--Calls on Congress to Honor Armed Forces Code: “Leave no one behind” **

 **Letter also signed by organizations representing hundreds of thousands of veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces**

(Washington, DC)—Today, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) welcomed a letter in support of extending the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program that was distributed to Congress and signed by 36 distinguished retired military leaders and organizations representing hundreds of thousands of veterans. The Afghan SIV program allows Afghans who faithfully supported the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and are under threat because of this service to apply for refuge in the United States. In the past few years, the SIV program has been sustained through the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but this year the Senate failed to adopt language offered by Sen. Shaheen to extend the program and authorize additional visas.  Without Congressional action, this program is expected to run out of visas in the coming months. 

“These military leaders aren’t mincing words,” said Senator Shaheen. “They know how critically important this program is both for the safety of these Afghans and for maintaining local support for this mission and future missions. Right now, the Taliban is hunting down many of these Afghans and their families because of their association with the United States. Their pleas and the pleas of our military leadership must not fall on deaf ears in Congress. I’m determined to prevent Congress from breaking our nation’s promise to our allies and welcome their strong support for this effort.”

This letter reads in part: “As representatives of the U.S. government, we gave our word to protect these allies should they come under threat. Since 2006, this promise to those Iraqis and Afghans has been fulfilled by the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program.”

The letter continues, “Congressional inaction is putting our military at risk in Afghanistan and elsewhere … Military service instills in a person certain values: Loyalty. Duty. Respect. Honor. Integrity. These values apply universally; to each other, to our nation, and also to all those who stood by our sides when we needed it most. Breaking our word directly violates these values.”

“Since our first days of boot camp, we accepted and practiced the value: ‘leave no one behind.’ Keep our word. Don’t leave anyone behind.”

In an op-ed published in The New York Times earlier this summer, Senator Shaheen warned of the strategic costs of abandoning these Afghans. Shaheen also expresses her intention to extend the SIV program through this year’s appropriations process. Soon after this op-ed was published, language was included in the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill that provides 4,000 additional visas and extends the program for another year.

You can read the full letter signed by these retired military leaders and veterans organizations below:

Dear Senators and Members of Congress,

We write as concerned veterans. In all wars, American service members fight alongside foreign allies, live within local communities, and build security partnerships. We could not complete our mission without the translators, engineers, security guards, embassy clerks, logisticians, cultural advisors, and soldiers who have stood by us.

As representatives of the U.S. government, we gave our word to protect these allies should they come under threat. Since 2006, this promise to those Iraqis and Afghans has been fulfilled by the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program.

In early June, Congress failed to keep that promise. For the first time in four years, Congress has not authorized any additional visas for Afghans as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

What kind of message have we sent to the Afghans currently serving alongside the nearly 10,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan? We fear that it conveys that America has abandoned them, and in kind, they are now free to abandon our forward deployed troops. What incentive would any Afghan or other ally have to cooperate with and serve alongside the U.S. military?

Congressional inaction is putting our military at risk in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Over 7,800 Afghans who served with our troops are currently waiting for the government to process their visas. The State Department reports that Congress has authorized enough visas for only 3,200 of them, leaving at least 4,600 Afghans with one choice: flee or die.

There is still time to act. We, the undersigned veterans, representing every branch of military service and every American conflict dating back to Vietnam, urge Congress to do the following:

1. Authorize, at a minimum, 6,000 additional principal Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans.
2. Review and update the SIV program to address the current shortcomings to protecting all wartime allies.
3. Authorize the SIV program to continue for as long as the United States commits military forces (in either a combat or advisory/training role) in Afghanistan and Iraq.
4. Extend the Category 5 provision of the Direct Access program (currently only available for Iraqis) to the extended family of Afghan SIV applications.

Military service instills in a person certain values: Loyalty. Duty. Respect. Honor. Integrity. These values apply universally; to each other, to our nation, and also to all those who stood by our sides when we needed it most. Breaking our word directly violates these values.

Many of us can point to a moment when one of our foreign allies saved our lives – often by taking up arms against our common enemies. They acted because they believed in America, in our mission, and in the promise that was given. We urge Congress to set aside political differences to help our deployed troops accomplish the mission through keeping our promise to our wartime allies.

Since our first days of boot camp, we accepted and practiced the value: “leave no one behind.” Keep our word. Don’t leave anyone behind.

Very respectfully,

We the undersigned 36 retired military leaders and organizations representing hundreds of thousands of veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.

IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA
INTERNATIONAL REFUGEE ASSISTANCE PROJECT
NO ONE LEFT BEHIND
TRUMAN NATIONAL SECURITY PROJECT
VETERANS FOR AMERICAN IDEALS
VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA

GENERAL JOHN R. ALLEN, USMC (RET.)
GENERAL BRYAN D. BROWN, USA (RET.)
GENERAL GEORGE W. CASEY, JR., USA (RET.)
GENERAL PETER W. CHIARELLI, USA (RET.)
GENERAL RICHARD H. CODY, USA (RET.)
GENERAL JAMES T. CONWAY, USMC (RET.)
ADMIRAL SAMUEL J. LOCKLEAR III, USN (RET.)
GENERAL MONTGOMERY C. MEIGS, USA (RET.)
GENERAL STANLEY A. MCCHRYSTAL, USA (RET.)
ADMIRAL WILLIAM H. MCRAVEN, USN (RET.)
GENERAL RICHARD B. MYERS, USAF (RET.)
GENERAL H. HUGH SHELTON, USA (RET.)
LIEUTENANT GENERAL DAVID W. BARNO, USA (RET.)
LIEUTENANT GENERAL WILLIAM B. CALDWELL IV, USA (RET.)
LIEUTENANT GENERAL CHARLES T. CLEVELAND, USA (RET.)
LIEUTENANT GENERAL FRANK HELMICK, USA (RET.)
LIEUTENANT GENERAL MARK P. HERTLING, USA (RET.)
VICE ADMIRAL CONRAD C. LAUTENBACHER, JR. USN (RET.)
VICE ADMIRAL JOSEPH MCGUIRE, USN (RET.)
LIEUTENANT GENERAL CHARLES OTSTOTT, USA (RET.)
LIEUTENANT GENERAL WILLIAM P. TANGNEY, USA (RET.)
MAJOR GENERAL JUAN G. AYALA, USMC (RET.)
MAJOR GENERAL JOHN BATISTE, USA (RET.)
MAJOR GENERAL KENNETH R. BOWRA, USA (RET.)
MAJOR GENERAL PAUL D. EATON, USMC (RET.)
MAJOR GENERAL DAVID L. GRANGE, USA (RET.)
MAJOR GENERAL EDWARD M. REEDER, JR., USA (RET.)
MAJOR GENERAL SYDNEY SHACHNOW, USA (RET.)
MAJOR GENERAL LEROY N. SUDDATH, JR., USA (RET.)
BRIGADIER GENERAL RHONDA CORNUM, USA (RET.)
BRIGADIER GENERAL GARY M. JONES, USA (RET.)
BRIGADIER GENERAL MURRAY G. SAGSVEEN, USA (RET.)
SERGEANT GARY BEIKIRCH USA, MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT
CAPTAIN FLORENT GROBERG, USA (RET.), MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT
AMBASSADOR JAMES F. JEFFREY (US ARMY VETERAN)