By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
White House skips Guam, prepares to move Afghan translators to Virginia
Updated: Jul 20, 2021
Skipping a proposal to relocate Afghan translators to Guam, the State Department will temporarily house the U.S. allies at a U.S. Army base in Fort Lee, Va. while they await final approval of their special immigrant visas.
In a press briefing Monday, State Department Spokesman Ned Price said the first tranche of 2,500 Afghan nationals will be evacuated from Afghanistan and relocated to the Army base by the end of July.
He said the first group comprises 700 translators and their immediate families, who have been vetted and are closest to completing their visa processing.
"These are brave Afghans and their families, as we have said, whose service to the United States has been certified by the embassy in Kabul, and who have completed thorough (special immigrant visa) security vetting processes," Price said.
"They will be provided temporary housing and services as they complete the final steps in the special immigrant process," he added.
Guam, which is home to Andersen Air Force Base and Naval Base, has earlier been floated as a possible safety zone for the Afghan allies. It was not clear if the territory has been eliminated from the list of safety destinations for the remaining thousands of visa applicants.
At the press briefing, Price said the State Department, for security reasons, would not be able to provide additional details of the relocation plan.
The special immigrant visa program is made available to U.S. allies who are facing retribution from the Taliban for assisting the U.S. military during its nearly 20-year operation in Afghanistan.
Prices said the Department of Defense approved the selection of Fort Lee as a safe zone for Afghan nationals based on the State Department's request.
The Taliban has been rapidly reactivating its force amid the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
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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.
Matthew Zeller, a co-founder of the veterans' group No One Left Behind, earlier suggested Guam as a temporary sanctuary for the Afghan allies, who are awaiting approval of their visas. He said sending them to an American territory would eliminate the need to negotiate with other nations.