White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a press briefing Thursday that the Biden administration will begin to evacuate U.S. allies and their families from Afghanistan next month, saying it’s “continuing to work closely with Congress to change the authorizing legislation so that we can streamline the process for approving visas, even when they are in a third country.”
However, to the frustration of advocates who for months have been urging President Joe Biden to quickly evacuate allies, there were few details, including where Afghan allies and their families will go. While reports have said the administration is considering Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Guam, Psaki would not say, claiming “security reasons.”
“[T]he President continued to sow confusion about a possible evacuation of Afghan nationals, providing no concrete details on who would be evacuated, where they would go, or who is leading the operation,” Refugee Council USA said in a statement. “The President also falsely claimed that the law does not allow an evacuation of Afghan allies to the United States.”
During his press briefing, also on Thursday, the president was asked by a reporter why allies couldn’t go to U.S. soil, “as some immigrants at the southern border have been allowed to do?” The president replied, “[b]ecause the law doesn’t allow that to happen. And that’s why we’re asking the Congress to consider changing the law.” But that’s just not true, advocates and experts responded.
“In fact, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has the legal authority to parole people into U.S. territory which will allow applicants and their families to travel to and wait safely in U.S. territory like Guam while they complete their processing for the Special Immigrant Visas (SIV),” Human Rights First said. “Biden is wrong about evacuating our allies to the United States and processing them here,” responded American Immigration Council policy counsel Aaron Reichlin-Melnick. “We've done it in the past and we can do it again.”
Guam Gov. Lourdes Aflague Leon Guerrero has said the U.S. territory is again ready to assist, telling MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow this week that “we have had historical experience,” and that “we’ve gone through the process.” Advocates have noted Guam has played a central role in life-saving evacuation efforts dating back to the Ford administration, when we brought “130,000 Vietnamese refugees to the U.S. through Guam, where refugees were initially screened before being welcomed into the mainland United States.”
“We are rarely afforded the opportunity to foresee humanitarian crises, yet the country finds itself in such a moment,” Refugee Council interim director John Slocum said. “If the United States fails to evacuate our allies and their families to US soil, we will all but condemn them to a future of uncertainty and persecution. It was disappointing this afternoon to hear the President dodge direct questions about evacuations, seemingly dismissing the severe and immediate needs of our allies and their families.”
“The president also paradoxically said, ‘speed is safety,’ and then reported that any evacuation would not commence until August,” Human Rights First said. President Biden has said U.S. forces are set to leave the nation on Aug. 31.
“Every day we do not evacuate these allies while U.S. forces withdraw makes such an operation nearly impossible to do safely,” said Human Rights First’s senior director for government affairs Jennifer Quigley. “We need to act now to bring all these allies to Guam, if President Biden truly meant ‘speed is safety,’ it would apply to Afghan allies’ lives, not just American ones. The truth is further inaction costs lives.” Refugee Council USA echoed this, saying “[t]ime is of the essence. President Biden stated that ‘speed is safety’ regarding Americans leaving Afghanistan, and that’s no less true for Afghan allies.”