Fifty-five U.S. senators are urging President Biden to expeditiously evacuate Afghan special immigrant visa applicants whose lives are in jeopardy in the aftermath of the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan.
The group of senators, led by New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Iowa Republican Joni Ernst, noted the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan was aided "every step of the way" by Afghans who risked their safety and that of their families to assist the United States.
"As the situation in Afghanistan deteriorates, these individuals face increased danger at the hands of the Taliban that has sworn retribution," the bipartisan group said in letter dated Wednesday.
"For this reason, Congress provided additional authorities to improve and expedite the application process while maintaining the program's security and integrity."
The letter noted that on July 17, the U.S. launched Operation Allies Refuge to evacuate endangered special immigrant visa applicants "from the Taliban's advances," an operation the letter states brought 2,000 Afghans to the United States.
"However, many more remain," the letter goes on. "The Taliban's rapid ascendancy across Afghanistan and takeover of Kabul should not cause us to break our promise to the Afghans who helped us operate over the past twenty years and are counting on us for assistance. American inaction would ensure they become refugees or prime targets for Taliban retribution."
The Biden administration has been criticized by Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike for not acting swiftly enough in relocating Afghans who provided assistance to the U.S. along with their families.
The senators called on the Biden administration to implement the changes passed by Congress this summer to expedite the special immigrant visa program. These include lowering the employment requirement for eligibility from two years to one, repealing the "sensitive and trusted" requirement for those employed by or on behalf of the NATO-led military mission in Afghanistan, and waiving medical evaluations.
The letter also urges for full transparency for applicants, including "updating all public websites" maintained by the U.S. government to provide applicants with information on eligibility and application.
The U.S. has 34,500 visa slots under the special immigrant visa program for Afghans, but advocates said it takes about 3 1/2 years to process each applicant. In an interview with ABC News, Biden was asked about the fate of Afghan nationals, who helped the U.S. during the American presence in Afghanistan, and their families, who together are estimated to number between 50,000 and 65,000.
"The commitment holds to get everyone out that, in fact, we can get out and everyone who should come out. And that's the objective," he said. "That's what we're doing now. That's the path we're on. And I think we'll get there."
You can read the whole letter below.