“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 letter states.
“These are our people, partners, and friends, countless of whom aided the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and protected our servicemembers,” it adds.
The letter was led by Reps. Jason Crow of Colorado as well as three Democrats in some of the most competitive districts in the country — Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Tom Malinowski and Andy Kim, both of New Jersey. But its signatories span the gamut — from progressive leaders like Pramila Jayapal of Washington to moderate Blue Dog Democrats like Jim Cooper of Tennessee.
The pressure on the Biden administration comes as the White House has sought to move past the chaotic last few weeks in Afghanistan and pivot onto the domestic agenda. But the concerns from the Democratic lawmakers suggests that the issue won’t be off the table.
Several Democrats have been very vocal in their criticism of Biden’s handling of the withdrawal process and chaotic evacuation of Kabul, which, by the President’s own admission, failed to get every American out of the country. In the letter, the Democrats call for a “breakdown of the more than 116,000 individuals evacuated,” including how many were US citizens and how many were special visa holders.
The official said they did not have a specific count of the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants and family members who did not make it onto evacuation flights, “but I would say it’s the majority of them, just based on anecdotal information about the populations we were able to support.”
More broadly, the official described an evacuation effort confronted by numerous challenges — one that left US officials who worked on the ground “haunted by the choices we had to make and by the people we were not able to help depart in this first phase of the operation.”
“It wasn’t pretty. It was very challenging,” the senior official said, “and it involved some, some really painful trade-offs and choices for everyone involved.”
There were at least 20,000 SIV applicants in the pipeline prior to the US withdrawal, and the State Department has not provided a specific count of how many of the 123,000 people evacuated from Afghanistan fall into that category.
Advocates and bipartisan lawmakers had urged the administration for months to carry out an evacuation, arguing that it was the only way to ensure that SIV program applicants were safe prior to the withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan.
Blinken has recently defended the Biden administration’s actions on the SIV program in the lead up to the fall of Kabul but also acknowledged that those efforts were not the same as “a full-on evacuation.”
The top US diplomat has also indicated that the administration thought it would have more time to execute on those efforts to relocate the Afghans and their families who worked alongside the US government.