Families evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan walk through the terminal to board a bus after they arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport, in Chantilly, Va., Sept. 1, 2021. More than a year after the Taliban takeover that saw thousands of Afghans rushing to Kabul's international airport amid the chaotic U.S. withdrawal, Afghans at risk who failed to get on evacuation flights say they are still struggling to find safe and legal ways out of the country. Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe / AP

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As the second anniversary of America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan approaches, Congress still has the opportunity to help the thousands of Afghans who were evacuated to the United States, as well as those who helped U.S. forces in the decades-long mission against terrorism.

Many translators, Afghan military members and others who helped the U.S. military and U.S. contractors in Afghanistan were left behind. Their lives are perilous as they remain in hiding from the Taliban, which has regained control after the hasty departure of U.S. and other international forces.

Many of those who were evacuated from Afghanistan as its government fell remain in immigration limbo in the U.S. Their path to citizenship is long, slow and circuitous, if it exists at all.

The Afghans who were relocated to America and our allies who were left behind deserve better.

So, it is encouraging that legislation, dubbed the Afghan Adjustment Act, was reintroduced earlier this month in both the U.S. House and Senate. Unlike similar bills last year that were allowed to languish, this year Congress must take action to help those who fled Afghanistan as well as those who worked with America and our partners who have been unable to leave.

“When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 2021, many of our Afghan allies were left behind. Since then, veterans have been carrying the burden while Congress has delayed providing meaningful relief to this ongoing crisis,” a group of more than two dozen veterans organizations wrote in a letter to congressional leaders last week. “The Afghan Adjustment Act would provide our Afghan allies with a safe haven in the United States, where they can rebuild their lives and continue to contribute to our country.”

The Senate and House bills were also among a list of immigration-related bills that were supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week.

Since July 2021, more than 85,00 Afghans have been relocated to the U.S. under Operation Allies Welcome. Most entered under a status called humanitarian parole, which allows them to stay and work in the U.S. for up to two years. Less than 10 percent have been granted asylum or qualified for the Special Immigrant Visa program, and the vast majority still do not have a legal pathway to remain in the United States.

Updating the Special Immigrant Visa program and providing a path to citizenship for Afghans who clear a vetting process is one reason U.S. Sen. Angus King is in line to co-sponsor this year’s version.

“We have a moral and strategic obligation to ensure that these brave men and women receive an opportunity to apply for safe passage into the United States,” King said in a statement sent to the Bangor Daily News editorial board. “… I’ve also supported efforts to speed up processing of visa applicants, so properly vetted Afghans can safely relocate to the U.S. or other allied countries.”

1st District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree also co-sponsored a previous version of the act, and plans to do so again this year.

“The United States’ overly complicated and backlogged immigration system is preventing tens of thousands of Afghans from applying for permanent legal status in the country they jeopardized their lives to help,” Pingree said in a statement to the BDN editorial board.

“This bipartisan bill would help protect our Afghan allies and their families from the oppressive Taliban regime, and importantly, does so in a way that promotes a strong vetting process,” she added.

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, who represents Maine’s 2nd District and served as a Marine in Afghanistan, also plans to sign on as a co-sponsor of the House Afghan Adjustment Act, his office said. He was a cosponsor of last year’s bill as well.

Beyond the humanitarian reasons to support the bill, many veterans point out that supporting and helping our allies is a national security issue.

“Passing the Afghan Adjustment Act is a matter of national security. If we fail to do the bare minimum for our allies now — which is passing the Afghan Adjustment Act — we will not have the trust or support of local partners in future conflicts,” Brian deLutio, a retired Navy lieutenant commander who lives in Scarborough, said in a statement shared by Maine Vets for Afghans. “It will cost us intel and American lives.”

Passing an Afghan Adjustment Act, as a standalone bill or an amendment to a defense spending bill, is the right thing to do — for humanitarian and national security reasons.

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...