Afghan Helpers Left Behind

Slow processing of SIV applications has led to an average wait time of three years and a backlog of roughly 18,000 primary applicants (and 52,000 family members).


The long overdue withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan raises urgent questions about the fate of the Afghan interpreters, engineers, and other contractors who assisted U.S. troops during the last two decades: Will we invite them into the country they risked their lives to help, or leave them to the Taliban?

In 2006, Congress established an immigration pathway called the special immigrant visa (SIV) to get these helpers out of harm's way. But even Afghans with the highest commendations may be disqualified thanks to stringent requirements and human errors. Slow processing of the 14-step SIV application has led to an average wait time of three years and a backlog of roughly 18,000 primary applicants with 52,000 dependent family members.

Saberi—first name omitted for his safety—served as an interpreter with a U.S. private contractor for two years doing reconstruction and relief work. He applied for an SIV in 2014 after receiving death threats from the Taliban and other hostile parties. "If I had to stay in Afghanistan, it would put me totally in danger," he says. He diligently collected his application materials, including the required letter of recommendation from his supervisor, a New Zealander.

Years into the application process, Saberi learned that the letter couldn't come from a foreigner, even though they had both worked for the Americans. His supervisor tried to get an American to recommend Saberi but couldn't, despite the good relations Saberi says he enjoyed with American officers over the years. "We were so friendly and frank," he recalls.

With no clear path to the United States, Saberi fled Afghanistan with the help of smugglers. He hoped to reach Turkey with his family, but they were kidnapped and blackmailed into paying the equivalent of $3,000, wiping out his savings. They never reached Turkey and now live in a repressive country Saberi prefers not to name because of security concerns, where he works a simple job despite his highly educated background. He dreams of giving his family a chance "to be a part of the greatest nation of the world."

The SIV program has long been dysfunctional, and there have been many opportunities for the government to improve it, whether by consolidating redundant vetting steps or by improving the training of the officials who oversee the process. Evacuation by airlift, now the proposal favored by SIV advocates, is a last-resort solution, but it didn't have to come to this. Cases like Saberi's show that America had time to help our allies. The failure to do so will reverberate even after the last American soldier departs Afghanistan.

NEXT: Brickbat: What's Too Painful to Remember

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  1. The Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) application process appears to be overseen by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) division at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which, apparently, is the same division that is also responsible for processing applications for both Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

    The USCIS, presumably, has been deluged with applications from asylum seekers from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (Northern Triangle countries) in recent years, with the latest figures from July of 2021 hitting a more than 20 year high. There were 212,672 encounters in July of 2021, more than 50% of which were either children traveling alone or families traveling with children. You can see the CPB numbers for yourself at this link:

    In more than 90% of the asylum seeker cases from Northern Triangle countries in the past, the applicants were either denied a hearing on the basis that they don’t allege persecution, never showed up for their asylum hearing, or were denied asylum at their hearing. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that the primary victims of hundreds of thousands of bogus asylum claims being filed every month are applicants who are fleeing the legitimate threat of persecution by the Taliban and Islamic State on a time sensitive basis.

    It wouldn’t take three years to process the applications of these Afghan interpreters and their families if the number of asylum claims from Northern Triangle countries were below 1,000 a year, like it was before DACA, instead of growing to more than 200,000 a month. The Biden administration’s failure to bring our southern border under control is yet another example of their incompetence, and the Democrats in Congress failing to act on this is inexcusable.

    1. I’m sure #EndUSCIS was helpful too.

      1. COVID shutdowns, Antifa firebombings… it’s almost like most of these people on both (far left, left, center left, and not Trump) sides gave precisely zero shits if these people got into this country. That is, until some enormous clusterfuck caused the whole thing to go sideways.

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    2. Ken is making shit up in his usual long winded mind numbing way. Heres what really happened. The SIV program was sabotaged by Trump’s administration. The people who were in the room when the sabotage happened have already given their first hand accounts. Vetting people takes long enough without deliberate sabotage. But I also partially blame the Biden administration for not taking charge of our govt and rooting all this Trump sabotage. Fortunately Biden has maintained the peace with the Taliban and seems determined to continue the evacuation so hopefully we can save more of these people.

      1. “Ken is making shit up in his usual long winded mind numbing way.”

        By long-winded and mind numbing, do you mean by citing facts and offering links? Can you show me where I’m wrong on that–or are we supposed to take your word for it?

        If you don’t think adding hundreds of thousands of applications a month didn’t slow the process of processing the visas of Afghans down, or if you think that subtracting hundreds of thousands of applications a month, by way of our southern border, wouldn’t have sped the processing of Afghan visas up, then you need to explain why.

        Attacking me personally or screaming, “Trump!” doesn’t change the facts or the logic one bit. You need to get a little more long winded and mind numbing if that’s what you mean by citing facts and being rational.

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      2. If it’s longer than a bumper-sticker slogan, Lord of Shit’s in over his head.
        And probably lying besides; let’s see some cites for your claims about Trump.
        Or STFU.

      3. If by peace with the taliban you mean gave them a list of collaborators then yes he did do that

      4. Fortunately Biden has maintained the peace with the Taliban cut and run, leaving civilians stranded.


      5. Aw look Lard Full of Shit took a dump and produced her usual screed that absolves Biden once again.

      6. ‘…The people who were in the room when the sabotage happened have already given their first hand accounts…”

        Lord of Shit is claiming this, so it’s odds-on to be “anonymous sources close to the investigation”.

  2. Why is an article about Afghans headlined with some Levantine guy?

  3. This can’t be. I was assured by ENB that the Biden administration did a bang up job pulling out of Afghanistan.

    1. You don’t understand. Biden personally directed the most efficient, secure, fraudproblem-free withdrawal in US history and everything went perfectly. All residual problems are squarely the fault of Bad Orange Man.

    2. “…the Biden administration did a bang up job…”

      What you did there is quite clear!

    3. The withdrawal was as secure as the election.

  4. Save the


    “women and girls”

    <a href=""&quot;Military stray dogs”

    Won’t Reason think of the poor goats?

  5. Biden screwed up – again.

  6. Americans left behind too. This is the POTUS you wanted Reason

  7. Traitors, collaborators, and Quizzing. We do not need them in the US.

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