A group of Democratic lawmakers on Friday sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the safe return of American citizens and Afghan allies out of Afghanistan.
The letter comes amid calls to rescue what the State Department estimates to be less than 250 Americans stuck in the country after the last U.S. troops left before Aug. 31. Other lawmakers and institutions estimate thousands of other Afghan allies, including Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders, are seeking evacuation.
“U.S. planes may have left, but thousands of our Afghan partners and their families are still waiting. Proud to lead this letter with @RepSlotkin, @RepMalinowski, @RepAndyKimNJ,” Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., said in a Friday tweet, along with a copy of the letter. “We will keep working to help those who stood with us.”
Rep. Doris Matsui, one of the 18 Democratic lawmakers who signed the letter, said in a Friday tweet that “our work is far from over” despite the last U.S. troops being out of Afghanistan.
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I joined my colleagues in writing to @SecBlinken about how it’s crucial that we get the remaining American citizens out and secure the safe passage of LPRs, SIVs, and P1/P2 applicants to our country,” she wrote.
The letter makes a number of recommendations for Blinken, including the “immediate evacuation of any remaining American citizens and legal permanent residents seeking evacuation”; establish multiple channels of communication to reach those individuals; designate a “senior official” charged with handling the next phase of the Afghanistan exit; expedite the processing of visa holders and so on.
“While there will be time in the future conduct [sic] a more thorough assessment of this 20-year conflict and our evacuation, our immediate goal is ensuring the safety of the thousands of individuals that have contacted our offices seeking to leave Afghanistan, starting first with American citizens and U.S. legal permanent residents as well as SIVs, refugees eligible for P-2 and P-1 status, and other designated Afghans,” the lawmakers wrote.
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The SIV program was established so that Afghans who worked with the U.S. throughout the 20-year long war could emigrate to America.
Blinken on Friday said the “backlog” of Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) that accumulated under the Trump administration is the reason why Afghan allies remain in the now-Taliban-controlled nation. In answer to questions regarding why more Afghan allies had not been evacuated prior to the U.S. withdrawal, Blinken said “the program was basically in a dead stall” when he acquired it.
The visa system requires a 14-step process that also relies on agencies outside of the State Department for visa approval.
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Blinken did not answer whether any Americans have gotten out of Afghanistan since US troops withdrew. He said the State Department is in regular contact with Americans who are in the country and want to get out and that dedicated teams are assigned to handle their cases.
The White House said Monday that since Aug. 14, when the mission began, the U.S. has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of approximately 116,700 people. And since the end of July, the White House said the U.S. has relocated nearly 122,300 people from Afghanistan.
Fox News’ Brooke Singman and Caitlin McFall contributed to this report.