WASHINGTON—Since 2001, the United States has been involved in Afghanistan, and later Iraq, in military and a nation-building capacities. During that time, Afghan and Iraqi nationals have assisted U.S. troops, diplomats, and government humanitarian personnel in the region by providing translation, interpretation, security, transportation, and other vital services, often at great risk to themselves and their families. In 2006, the U.S. Congress first authorized a bipartisan humanitarian program to provide Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) for nationals from Afghanistan and Iraq that include resettlement services and legal permanent residence for the approved principal applicants, their spouses, and children.
Since the creation of the program, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) team has worked with the U.S. Department of State, the Office of Refugee Resettlement and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to provide resettlement services to some of the over 73,000 Afghan SIV holders and their families. The USCCB has also advocated periodically before Congress to extend and improve the program.
On July 14, the White House announced the emergency relocation of Afghan SIV applicants in their final stages of processing to the United States, in an effort aided by US Partners and MRS and its community partners. The in the United States today.
Additionally, Congress passed a bipartisan emergency supplemental appropriations bill on July 29, which allocates over $1 billion for humanitarian support and assistance, authorizes an additional 8,000 visas for the SIV program, and makes certain changes to streamline the application process. This follows from the USCCB on similar measures considered by Congress in recent weeks.
Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the USCCB, and Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington and chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration, issued the following statement, responding to these events and welcoming the Afghans:
“We are proud to have the opportunity to welcome and assist those who have kept Americans safe in Afghanistan. By working with the United States, each of these individuals have put their lives and those of their family and friends at risk. As they now leave everything behind to begin new lives here, the many sacrifices they’ve made should not go unacknowledged.
“The Catholic Church teaches that each person is created in the image and likeness of God and that we must uphold the inherent dignity of every person. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis has emphasized welcoming the newcomer, saying it is ‘an invitation to overcome our fears so as to encounter the other, to welcome, to know and to acknowledge him or her. It is an invitation which offers the opportunity to draw near to the other and see where and how he or she lives.’
“The U.S. bishops, through Migration and Refugee Services, and together with Catholic Charities, are grateful for the opportunity to partner with the government and other NGOs to ensure the warm welcome, safe relocation, and resettlement of those who have already contributed greatly to our nation. We also applaud Congress for coming to an agreement on the emergency supplemental appropriations bill to help ensure that all Afghans who are in danger because they assisted the U.S. receive protection and welcome.”
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