News from the Week of August 15, 2016

The battle to bring home our Afghan wartime allies will resume when Congress reconvenes in September after its summer recess. As of now the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, which has brought these allies and their families to the United States since 2009, is in danger of being dismantled by Congressional inaction.

A coalition of high-ranking military leaders, national security experts, and diplomats have all expressed to lawmakers the severity of the situation. Ending the Special Immigrant Visa Program would have disastrous implications—not only for U.S. credibility abroad, but also for the lives of thousands of Afghans who served alongside us.

The New York Times reports that as of now, over 10,000 Afghan interpreters and translators will be left behind if the program is not reauthorized in the fall, many of whom are currently in hiding from the Taliban. These allies served alongside U.S. troops with the belief that America would uphold its agreement to keep them safe from harm after their service—a promise we are dangerously close to breaking.

“It’s our credibility that is on the line,” said Brigadier General Charles H. Cleveland, spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan. “We’ve really been trying to reinforce the fact to Afghans that we are committed to you, and this gives the enemy some propaganda to say, ‘Hey, these people really aren’t committed to you.’”

A bipartisan group of legislators, led by Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, has pushed to impress upon their fellow lawmakers the seriousness and urgency of the situation. “People are going to die,” McCain implored his Senate colleagues. “Don’t you understand the gravity of that?”

The Times reports that the stale reaction from Congress on the SIV issue is linked to a broader rancor over immigration and refugee policy—especially for those coming from the Middle East. Refugee relocation has become a flashpoint across the southern United States, with a number of governors openly refusing any refugee resettlement in their states. However, this hardline position stands in stark contrast to the stance of many cities, towns, and communities across America.

"Some of the anti-refugee voices are coming from places with few refugees," says Stephanie Teatro, who leads a refugee advocacy agency in Tennessee. "In cities and communities where refugees are actually resettled, they are welcomed and the program is defended."

This trend can be seen in small towns from Montana to Georgia, where refugees are rejuvenating small-town America. The Seattle Times reports that rural areas and small towns across the United States have been steadily shrinking. Fargo, North Dakota mayor Tim Mahoney is one among many who are seeing the value that refugees bring to communities, regardless of their ethnicity or religion.

“Our refugees have come in and brought a lot to our community,” said Mahoney. “They opened a mosque, and people came in and said, ‘Oh, this is just like a Lutheran social. There’s food.’”

Finally, as we approach the close of the 2016 Olympic Games, Quartz brings us this reminder of why the Refugee Olympic Team matters: these inspiring photographs of thousands of refugees in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp—the largest of its kind—reacting to a live feed of this year’s games. In watching athletes of the Refugee Olympic Team compete, residents of the Kakuma camp saw a reflection of their own dignity, bravery, and determination.

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