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U.S. needs to keep its promise of visas for Afghans who helped military effort

It is unacceptable for the United States to break the promises made to Afghans who put their lives on the line to assist this country’s military.

Yet, thousands of Afghan translators now worry they will be killed by the Taliban because Congress is balking at issuing visas under a program this country’s military elite says proved vital.

According to a report in the New York Times, people like Zar Mohammad Stanikzai, who became a translator supporting the United States military in 2012, are forced to wait on the sidelines while politicians bicker about whether to give him and others the passage to this country that they earned.

If lawmakers fail to uphold their end of a long-ago bargain, translators whose services were critical in keeping our troops safe will die. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and longtime champion of the visa program, asked a fellow Republican: “Don’t you understand the gravity of that?” Apparently, not.

At least not in the case of Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the body that has sway over immigration matters. Grassley raised questions about the cost of adding the 4,000 visas that the Obama administration requested this year. According to the Times, he pointed to a Congressional Budget Office estimate of $446 million over the next 10 years.

And then there is Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who blocked a compromise put together by a bipartisan group of senators. He was objecting to the measure coming up for a vote while one of his unrelated measures was not. Politics at its worst.

Our nation’s credibility is on the line, as Brig. Gen. Charles H. Cleveland, spokesman for the American command in Afghanistan, said.

According to the Times, the State Department for more than eight years has offered a special visa program for those facing an “ongoing serious threat” after having lent their services as translators in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Thousands have done so, at extreme peril to their own lives, knowing that they would be rewarded with new lives in America.

Yet, Congress has responded in a manner that is dangerous to those translators by delaying the process and setting aside a comparatively small number of visas.

There is a looming deadline. Applicants must apply by Dec. 31 to be considered. If lawmakers fail to act to raise the number of visas available, no new applicants would be able to apply. That failure is inconceivable to the military officers in Afghanistan leading troops who rely on Afghans for help in their mission.

This nation made a promise: visas in exchange for vital services. We need to stay true to our word.

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