US forces managed to board more than 76,000 Afghans on evacuation flights last summer as they fled the pandemonium of Kabul’s sudden fall to the Taliban. This airlift, despite the backdrop of an embarrassing and chaotic military withdrawal, was an astounding demonstration of United States ingenuity, resources, and resolve.
But even as Washington has continued to ensure Afghans leave their country and are admitted here — nearly 10,000 have arrived since the fall — thousands more who have aided the US war effort and members of their immediate family have been left behind. These estranged families – children, husbands and wives torn apart during the turmoil of the sudden US exit – were the subject of a heartbreaking article by Abigail Hauslohner of the Post. It was a timely reminder of this country’s unpaid moral debt to a cohort of people whose lives have been torn apart and, in many cases, endangered, as a result of America’s two-decade presence in Afghanistan.
Among those separated from their families are some 1,400 Afghan children who arrived in the United States without their parents. They include Afghans who have worked directly for US agencies and with the US military, as well as their wives, children and grandchildren. They include others whose livelihoods – with nongovernmental organizations or the media, for example – were only possible because of the US security presence, and whose jobs and security may now be permanently compromised.
It is true that extracting people from Afghanistan is difficult and dangerous work. For those who want to leave, or even reunite with their immediate family, the task is infinitely more complicated than simply booking a commercial flight from Kabul. It is also true that US officials have continued to work to get Afghans out, including about 350 who have been arriving in that country every week for the past two months.
It’s not nothing; it’s not enough either.
As reported by The Post, the Biden administration has established no systematic process to proactively identify and assist resettled Afghans in the United States who remain separated from their immediate family members, many or most remain in Afghanistan. No easy-to-access official channel is available through which this information can be passed to the State Department, the Pentagon, or the Department of Homeland Security. Why not?
Refugee advocates estimate the number of separated Afghan families based partly in the United States to number in the tens of thousands. And while major questions remain about the long-term immigration status of Afghans already in this country — issues that Congress could address by granting them a pathway to citizenship — easing procedures for reunifying these families is a separate, and much more urgent matter.