Guam can provide temporary sanctuary for Afghan allies who are awaiting approval of their special immigrant visas, according to veterans and human rights advocates.
“We’re out of options. The time to save these people with the [special immigrant visa] program is the 13 years it’s existed,” Matthew Zeller, a co-founder of No One Left Behind, told Defense One, a military-centric online publication. . “We’re out of time. It’s Guam or bust.”
Zeller was referring to Afghan interpreters and military intelligence assets who have helped the American troops and are in need of protection as the United States begins the troop withdrawal from the nearly 20-year war in Afghanistan.
The special immigrant visa program, created in 2006, offers permanent residency and U.S. citizenship to Afghans and Iraqis who worked for the U.S. government at the height of conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“This program has been a critical tool to ensure the safety and protection of individuals who put their own lives at risk to help the United States in those two conflicts,” the think tank Truman Center stated in a report released in April. “The special immigrant visa programs represent a promise that we made to our allies.”
However, the center noted that backlogs and processing delays leave visa applicants at risk in their home countries, where they face threats from the Taliban.
According to the Truman Center's report, about 18,000 Afghan translators and interpreters who have applied for the program are currently awaiting approval and there is an unused backlog of 11,000 visas available between 2009 and 2022.
Human rights advocates warned that it’s too late to rely on the visa program to save the U.S. allies given that the military has only a little over 100 days to fully withdraw from Afghanistan.
American troops are slated to be completely out of the war-torn country by September.
Zeller, a fellow at Truman Center, urged the U.S. government to evacuate the Afghans to Guam, noting that sending them to an American territory would eliminate the need to negotiate with other nations.
Christopher Purdy, a project manager at Veterans for American Ideals, said the visas would be worthless if the people who need them are dead.
"It has to be viewed as an ‘and.’ We need more visas and people need to be somewhere to be safely and securely processed,” Defense One quoted Purdy as saying. “The only solution at this point is an evacuation of every American-affiliated Afghan…to an American territory where they can be safely, securely, and efficiently processed for visas."
The Truman Center recommended that the U.S. execute a mass evacuation plan similar to historical events in Vietnam, Iraq and Kosovo. "This option will allow applicants to travel to a safe space while they await processing," the group said.