In the aftermath of the rapid collapse of the Afghan government, the United States is hurriedly trying to evacuate Afghans that provided critical assistance in its longest war. Thousands of these refugees will enter America through Texas, and at least hundreds will eventually call Texas home.
The refugees being evacuated have applied for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV), meaning they worked for the U.S. military during the Afghanistan War, usually as interpreters. Needless to say, their lives, as well as their families, are in grave danger now that the Taliban is back in power. The SIV program has been around for a while but the bureaucratic and unwieldy 14-step process meant that many were stuck in limbo for years, with an average wait time of more than 900 days. There were an estimated 18,000 principal applicants plus 53,000 family members in the pipeline earlier this year.
The impending U.S. withdrawal created a new sense of urgency about evacuating SIV applicants. In July, Congress passed a bill to streamline the process while the Biden administration began Operation Allies Refuge to airlift Afghans out of the country. However, the Taliban overran the country much faster than expected. While U.S. officials were saying that Kabul could fall in 30-90 days on August 10, the Taliban seized the capital just 5 days later (for comparison, South Vietnam held out for two years after American forces withdrew, while the Afghan government set up by the Soviets held out for three). U.S. troops now just control the Kabul airport, where the race is on to evacuate as many Americans and Afghans as possible. A striking image of one cargo plane carrying 640 people from Kabul to a U.S. military base in Qatar highlights the seriousness of the situation. .
The Pentagon says that Fort Bliss, an Army installation in El Paso, will temporarily house Afghan refugees after they arrive in the United States. This base, in addition to Fort McCoy in Wisconsin and Fort Lee in Virginia, will process up to 22,000 SIV applicants, their families and other “at-risk” individuals. Another 8,000 will be sent to a third country.
While Afghan refugees will eventually be resettled across the country, at least 324 are expected to find a home in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston. “324 is the number of SIVs that are sure to be coming to Texas,” said Refugee Services of Texas (RST) Development Director Ashley Faye in an interview with the Signal. “But numbers change constantly and it could be a lot more than this.”
Due to the desperate situation in Afghanistan, RST is receiving refugees on very short notice. “Normally with refugees we have about two weeks before before they arrive, so we know how many are in the family and where they’re from,” said Faye. “Here we’re getting 8 to 14 hours notice so it’s an all hands on deck scramble to set up apartments and get all these basic necessities.” Faye added that they expected the next several weeks to be “really high volume.”
Once refugees are resettled, they receive about $1000, out of which comes rent and other basic necessities. “They have to become self-sufficient really, really fast, there is a cash assistance program where they can apply through us,” said Faye. “But in general, they basically take the first job that they’re offered, regardless of education. They are, you know, washing dishes and things and I know that’s really hard on them.”
If you would like to donate to RST, you can do so here. Additional resources to help Afghan refugees can be found here. “Just remember that SIVs are veterans who fought on our side,” said Faye. ”It’s our responsibility to resettle them.”
Photo: Diego Radames/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images