President Joe Biden said Thursday that the thousands of Afghans who aided America and their families would have the option to relocate to facilities outside the continental United States and in third countries to await special U.S. visas.
Without explicitly saying exactly where the Afghan evacuees will go, Biden declared during a press briefing:
The operation [to evacuate thousands of Afghans and their families before the American military withdrawal concludes at the end of August to wait for their visas outside Afghanistan] has identified U.S. facilities outside the continental United States, as well as in third countries to host our Afghan allies.
He added that starting this month, his administration will begin relocation flights for Afghans waiting for U.S. Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), available to individuals who fear Taliban reprisals for aiding the U.S. war effort and their families who choose to leave.
That suggests that some of the individuals waiting for the U.S. to process their SIVs may end up in American territories such as the Pacific island of Guam, located outside the continental United States.
Biden did not explicitly say where the Afghan evacuees would go.
However, U.S. officials, including a bipartisan group of House lawmakers, have reportedly lobbied the Biden administration to arrange for a mass evacuation of Afghans waiting for SIVs before the American military withdrawal.
On June 12, Guam Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero cited an article on Twitter that revealed her support for hosting Afghans while officials process their permanent relocation to the United States. However, she requested that Biden include her in the discussions if he decides to evacuate Afghans to the island.
— Governor Lou Leon Guerrero (@louleonguerrero) June 13, 2021
“I want to make certain, as the Governor of Guam, that these decisions reflect the best interests of our people. Due to the gravity and urgency of this matter, I would like to speak with you soon,” the governor wrote to Biden.
There is precedent for Guam to host U.S. allies evacuated while they wait for the United States to process their permanent visa applications, the Guam Daily Post reported.
“In 1975 and 1996, the U.S. evacuated its Vietnamese and Kurdish allies, respectively, to Guam, while their permanent visa applications were processed,” it noted.
Gov. Guerrero has not provided an update on whether Guam will host Afghan evacuees.
Biden officials reportedly considered the Guam suggestion far-fetched, given their fear that if Afghan visa applicants end up in the U.S. territory, it would be impossible to deport them if the United States denies their SIV applications.
Nevertheless, with the U.S. withdrawal fast approaching, the Biden administration is scrambling to find a safe haven outside embattled Afghanistan for Afghans who worked for America as interpreters, drivers, engineers, security guards, embassy clerks, fixers, contractors, and in other capacities.
Early this month, Bloomberg revealed that U.S. officials were in discussions with Afghanistan’s neighbors — Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan— to convince them to take some Afghan evacuees. U.S. officials urged the Central Asian countries to take 9,000 of the estimated 18,000 SIV applicants.
The 18,000 SIV applicants are estimated to want to bring 50,000-plus family members with them.
It is unclear if any of the Central Asian nations have agreed to receive the Afghans.
This week, the Washington Post, citing Tajik border officials, reported that over 1,000 Afghan soldiers fled into Tajikistan early Monday to escape clashes with Taliban narco-jihadis who have launched an aggressive offensive as U.S.-led NATO forces withdraw.
Nevertheless, Biden asserted that the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, which consists of military troops and police officers, are ready to protect Afghanistan from a Taliban takeover, citing U.S. training and equipping.
The Afghan visa applicants and their families, some of whom may choose to stay in Afghanistan, are stuck in bureaucratic limbo waiting to obtain SIVs, a complex and lengthy process riddled with delays and backlogs.
Some applicants have waited years to obtain a special U.S. visa, potentially making some countries hesitant to take the Afghan evacuees.
President Biden said his administration has already “dramatically accelerated” the lengthy and challenging process time for SIVs, adding that he is working with Congress to change the law to “streamline the process of approving those visas.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker recently testified before a Senate panel that a “mass evacuation” is the only option now due to Biden’s poor withdrawal planning, particularly his failure to consider the fate of the thousands of Afghans who worked for the U.S.