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House Republicans Tried to Tank the Increase to Afghan Allies Visas Altogether

Republican lawmakers praised the inclusion of an additional 12,000 visas to the program in the spending package, but behind the scenes, GOP leadership was pushing to wind down the program.

Afghan refugees Visa
At the beginning of March, only 7,000 visas for Afghan Allies remained available, with tens of thousands of applications under review. Rahmat Gul/AP

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are patting themselves on the back for passing a historic increase in visas for Afghans who helped the U.S. war effort. But behind the scenes, House Republicans were fighting to remove the visas from the spending bill altogether.

The White House requested Congress include 20,000 additional visas in its $1.2 trillion spending package in March — a proposal a bipartisan group of senators backed. The increase was ultimately whittled down to 12,000 additional visas, a compromise that still represents the biggest increase the Afghan Allies program has seen since it began in 2009.

Sources close to the negotiating process told NOTUS that House Republican leadership had initially tried to cut the visa increases from the spending package altogether; Speaker Mike Johnson felt there wasn’t enough justification for adding the total 20,000 visas into the budget with six months left in the fiscal year, per a House Republican leadership aide. Some in Republican leadership also argued in favor of winding down the program, saying Americans have been out of Afghanistan for nearly three years, the aide told NOTUS.

Thousands of Afghans remain in a dangerous limbo. As of the beginning of March, only 7,000 visas remained available through the program, which provides a path to citizenship; 8,000 applicants had been approved to receive them, and 12,000 others were close to becoming approved, per a letter written by a bipartisan group of senators. An additional 60,000 applicants are undergoing review — roughly half of which are expected to be approved.

Last month, 15 senators, including Sens. Thom Tillis, Jerry Moran and Mike Rounds, asked Republican and Democratic leadership to include the White House’s full request for 20,000 visas in the spending bill. That bipartisan support fell apart in the House. Two Democratic aides told NOTUS Rep. Jim Jordan was at the center of the opposition and tried to block the visas from being included. Jordan’s office vehemently denied that he ever took a position on the additional visas. Johnson’s office could not confirm Jordan’s position on the issue.

More broadly, some Democrats say the Republican opposition to the Afghan Allies program is tied to hyperpartisan politics surrounding immigration as a whole.

“When I showed up, I asked what the pushback was, and nobody could really put their finger on it,” North Carolina Democratic Rep. Jeff Jackson said. “So my question was, ‘Is this just getting caught up in the immigration debate generally?’ And people seem to say, ‘Yeah, this is just being conflated with the southern border.’”

In the immediate aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, 16 House Republicans voted against an increase to the special visas for Afghan allies, citing concerns around vetting. “There is concern about the broad net being cast by the Biden administration that will surely let potential terrorists slip through the cracks,” Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ office said then.

Despite House Republicans’ most recent efforts to toss the White House’s request for the special visas, many GOP lawmakers came out in support of the 12,000 visas that were included and even implied the program should be expanded further.

“However many people were loyal to us and helped us, we should be loyal back to them,” Texas Republican Rep. Wesley Hunt, an Army veteran, said. “I don’t know what that number is, but that needs to be the number.” “I think if we make a promise to our allies that we should maintain and keep that,” Rep. Cory Mills of Florida said, noting he has a friend who was “saved by our interpreters.”

“A lot of the people that we’ve worked with over 20-plus years, we already know some who’ve been methodically hunted out, killed, and in some cases, brutally tortured,” Mills said.

Republican House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Michael McCaul said he worked closely with Johnson to include the 12,000 visas in the bill in an interview with “Face the Nation.” “After the Biden administration’s chaotic withdrawal abandoned our Afghan allies — leaving them vulnerable to reprisal and retribution from the Taliban — this administration must do all it can to protect those who valiantly worked alongside the United States,” he said in a statement to NOTUS.

As lawmakers celebrated the visa increase, groups advocating for the Afghan Allies program were quick to point out the hypocrisy.

“I mean, if we had the support that the veterans in Congress said that we had, we would have had an Afghan Adjustment Act two years ago, we would have been able to get the Afghan Allies Protection Act done last year, which would have authorized 20,000 visas,” said Chris Purdy, the director of Veterans for American Ideals, a Human Rights First project. “So yeah, I mean, people will say all these great things about how we need to honor America’s commitment to our allies. But at the end of the day, you know, all of this stuff is still left on the cutting-room floor.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have conceded to the compromise.

“We had asked for 20,000 visas and a five-year extension of the program and a lot of streamlining to the program, but 12,000 is gonna save a lot of lives,” Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado told NOTUS. Crow was lauded by his Democratic peers for spearheading an entirely separate Afghan Allies Protection Act but said this increase through the budget process is “certainly a win.”

“It gives us more time. It gives us more runway for a longer-term fix and to continue to pursue additional increases to the program,” Crow said.

John T. Seward is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.