On July 22, the House passed the Averting Loss of Life and Injury by Expediting SIVs Act of 2021 (Allies Act) by an overwhelming majority of 407-16. The bill, which was introduced in the House by Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO), received an astounding consensus on both sides of the aisle to protect the lives of Afghans who aided and served alongside U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Even though immigration has been a bitterly partisan subject in Congress, the passage of this bill demonstrates that immigration reform on some key issues is still possible.
The Allies Act increases the ceiling of special immigrant visas made available to qualified Afghan nationals and eases some restrictions related to the program. The bill also makes an additional 8,000 visas available for principal applicants, not counting dependents, under the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. This is in addition to the 4,000 visas that were authorized under the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act of 2021.
Congress first passed the Afghan Allies Protection Act in 20091 as part of that year’s omnibus funding measure; the bill was designed to provide 7,500 visas over five years. Congress subsequently passed several program extensions in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2021, and since December 2014 the SIV program has allocated 26,500 visas for Afghan applicants, including for surviving spouses or children of an Afghan national who assisted the U.S. military.
Furthermore, on July 27, the Senate Committee on Appropriations included equivalent provisions to the Allies Act in the Senate’s bipartisan emergency funding bill for Capitol Hill security. The package commits $1 billion for the SIV program, including providing the Department of Defense’s Overseas, Humanitarian, Disaster, and Civic Aid program with $500 million in emergency transportation, housing, and other services for Afghan partners who are leaving the country. On July 29, the Senate unanimously passed the emergency spending package, 98-0. The House followed suit the same day, passing the bill with a vote of 416-11, and sending the bill to the president for signature. This willingness to come together and legislate on important immigration issues is a reminder that Congress still works when it wants to.
While major immigration reform has been unable to overcome this era’s partisan stalemate, the passage of the Allies Act of 2021 is a timely reminder that bipartisan action is still possible. This is a victory for both parties, and functions as a reminder that Congress can deliver immigration reform when necessary and urgent.