Don’t Leave Our Afghan Interpreters Behind

Last week, Sen. Thom Tillis co-sponsored a bill related to the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, which authorizes the U.S. State Department to issue visas to Iraqi and Afghan interpreters who served alongside U.S. forces in combat. This program has been in place since 2009 and saved thousands of lives, often because these interpreters and their families are marked for death by extremist organizations due to collaboration with the United States.

Unfortunately, this bipartisan program is under threat of ending due to individual legislators creating an unnecessarily complicated process and an administration that is vehemently opposed to immigration. The State Department just last week announced that it would be running out of SIV’s after June and “no further interviews for Afghan principal applicants … will be scheduled after March 1, 2017.” However, Sen. Tillis’ co-sponsorship with Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Jack Reed (D-RI), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) of the “Keeping Our Promise to Our Afghan Allies Act” has created the first opportunity to correct this problem. This bill will continue to make visas available to Afghan interpreters. Our government made a pledge, and to renege on these brave men, women and their families is a promise we morally cannot go back on.

As a veteran of the Navy and Marine Corps, I applaud and acknowledge that through these actions, Sen. Tillis has shown that the sacrifice of these heroes has earned their place here in the United States. Their efforts have earned the right to a safer and prosperous future.

However, this bill requires more support, and so I want to encourage Sen. Richard Burr to step up. I plead to his common decency as a patriot and supporter of our country’s armed forces. He must recognize the enormous risk these interpreters had taken when they chose willingly to aid our troops in combat. And besides, the SIV program is a bipartisan victory for national security and American values. It is bipartisan because it represents America at its best: Finding those who share our values and honoring their commitment to the same by offering them a safer life full of security and opportunity.

The U.S. military wants to honor its commitment to Afghan and Iraqi interpreters who served valiantly alongside our troops. The SIV program is a golden opportunity for bipartisan cooperation and American values.

A failure to honor our commitments to those applying through the SIV program has consequences both big and small. People the world over need to know that the U.S. government and military respects and rewards those who aid its goals and share its values; shutting down the SIV program for political theater or as part of some broader, coordinated assault on immigration is an embarrassment to our credibility. More urgently, though, many of these interpreters and their families are under threat of death for collaborating with the United States—if we don’t extend this program now, they will die.

If we turn our backs on those who helped us, it tarnishes America’s reputation abroad — and could mean a death sentence for our friends and their families still at risk in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As a North Carolinian, I am both optimistic and hopeful that our senators will support this program and call on our representatives to take this issue seriously and endorse this bill in their respective chamber. Championing this bill is bigger than politics and is one of those matters that requires complete attention. I believe that our citizens would agree with me, and I urge our members of Congress to act as stewards of the Special Immigration Visa program and proponents of “Keeping Our Promise to Our Afghan Allies Act.”

Ryan McGill is a veteran of the Marine Corps and three combat tours in Iraq. He is a member of Truman National Security Projects Political Partner. He lives in Charlotte. Views expressed are his own. Contact him at

Posted Apr 1, 2017 at 4:00 PM
At The Fayetteville Observer