America has a moral obligation to welcome our Afghan allies | Opinion

What kid doesn’t look up to their grandfather with admiration when he tells stories as a veteran of the U.S. Army?

My grandfather, Hector, swore an oath as a United States citizen to protect and defend our Constitution. I am proud of his service to our nation. He served during a season of U.S. history when we would have read headlines about indigenous soldiers in southeast Asia aiding U.S. soldiers in their efforts to bring peace. Today, those headlines aren’t that different with the exception that those aiding the US these days are the valiant people of Afghanistan.

Tens of thousands of evacuated Afghans have resettled in the United States, where Americans have shown a heartening desire to welcome and help them. But resettled Afghans still face uncertainty, and potentially a very long road to full lawful permanent resident status and eventual citizenship. Unless Congress passes legislation, most evacuated Afghans will have to claim asylum or obtain a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV), which will place tremendous strain on already overwhelmed and significantly backlogged asylum, SIV and immigration court systems.

Additionally, many Afghans were forced to destroy important documentation (or had their documents destroyed by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul) in order to avoid Taliban violence while waiting to be evacuated, further complicating their asylum claims.

The Afghan Adjustment Act, recently introduced in Congress with support from Republicans and Democrats, will help offer a certain future to evacuees. To integrate into our communities quickly and effectively, parolees need to be able to adjust their status quickly, avoid asylum backlogs stretching years and limited options for those who may not qualify for asylum or other immigration relief. Encouraging quicker integration will have additional benefits: It will reduce the risk of radicalization among newcomers and limit the influence of the minority of Americans whose message is one of hate rather than welcome.

Hafisa Momand, an Afghan refugee, feeds her child at the Extended Stay America hotel in West Des Moines, Iowa, on May 16, 2022, in West Des Moines. Momand recently suffered an apparent heart attack. In the months since more than 600 Afghan families began arriving in the Des Moines metro area, crises demanding attention -- medical emergencies, families without enough food or assistance -- have been been a challenge for both the agencies who receive federal money to help resettle them and the volunteers on the ground trying to assist.
Hafisa Momand, an Afghan refugee, feeds her child at the Extended Stay America hotel in West Des Moines, Iowa, on May 16, 2022, in West Des Moines. Momand recently suffered an apparent heart attack. In the months since more than 600 Afghan families began arriving in the Des Moines metro area, crises demanding attention -- medical emergencies, families without enough food or assistance -- have been been a challenge for both the agencies who receive federal money to help resettle them and the volunteers on the ground trying to assist.

Congress has done this multiple times in the past: 1960’s Cuban Adjustment Act and various post-Vietnam adjustment enactments for those from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in the 1970s and 1980s. And today, the National Immigration Forum's map shows how communities throughout Florida and across the U.S. are poised and ready to help people arriving from Afghanistan.

While the Biden administration is still struggling to honor their goal of resettling refugees, the government’s efforts to help Afghans seem to have moved more readily. Resettlement challenges have allowed local communities and states to step up in ways they haven’t before. State and local partners continue to welcome Afghan evacuees with compassion.

Even still, the U.S. should have a legal, secure process to take in people from not only Afghanistan but also other oppressed or war-torn countries where the United States has been engaged throughout the years. This is our moral obligation as the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Veterans like my grandfather made deep sacrifices for and commitments to this nation. “Leave no man behind” can be heard from battlefields throughout the world. Not leaving our Afghan allies behind means more than just evacuating them — we must also help them rebuild their lives safely. Without the Afghan Adjustment Act, Afghan parolees could eventually lose their jobs or be subject to deportation from the U.S. back into the hands of the Taliban.

I am proud of my grandfather. If he was with me today, I feel like he would want us to honor him and veterans just like him by asking our elected leaders throughout Florida to take a stand, finish the job, and see the Afghan Adjustment Act through to the end.

Melbourne High School graduate Loki Mole, a senior at the University of Central Florida, is studying political science and Latin American studies. After graduation in December, he will be serving with the U.S. Peace Corps in South America. Mole is a volunteer immigration advocate for the National Immigration Forum in Washington, D.C., and Mosaic Compassion in Melbourne.

This article originally appeared on Florida Today: The United States must welcome our Afghan allies | Opinion