Minneapolis Star Tribune

By Briana Bierschbach and Hunter Woodall

Hundreds of Minnesotans and people with ties to the state are reaching out to U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar's office and other members of the congressional delegation to help friends and family who remain in Afghanistan.

It's thrust lawmakers and their staff into the complex evacuation efforts since Aug. 15, when the Taliban suddenly took over the country. Klobuchar said a number of people on her staff working to get people out safely are immigrants.

"They have this sympathy and expertise that comes from being immigrants or asylum-seekers themselves," said Klobuchar, whose office has referred the cases of more than 1,000 individuals to the State Department. "They have lived the process, they understand the process and they know how frightening it is for people who are in war-torn lands and are risking their very lives sometimes to be on the side of democracy." The U.S. finished its withdrawal efforts in Afghanistan on Monday, effectively ending the nation's 20-year engagement in the country. But lawmakers continue to work on cases brought to them by constituents and others to help the Afghan allies who were left behind and potentially at risk.

Many of the cases that have poured into Klobuchar's office are from current and former students who fear their connections to the United States will make themselves and their families a target for the Taliban.

Her staff worked with an international student in Afghanistan who once studied in Minnesota to get her family out of the country. They made it to Qatar with her pregnant mother, who could deliver any day. Two Fulbright Scholars studying in Minnesota reached out to her office because they're afraid for the safety of their families in Afghanistan.

A Minnesota Green Beret was in contact with his former interpreter, who got a Special Immigrant Visa but his wife did not. The interpreter, who declined to be named over concerns for his family's safety, said his wife is a journalist and he was worried she'd be a target of the Taliban.

"Some people knew that I worked with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan for almost eight years and my wife is there, a woman, a journalist and the wife of the interpreter," he said. "It doubles everything."

After more than a year trying to get her a Special Immigrant Visa, he said he reached out to Klobuchar's office and it was expedited and processed in days. She was evacuated as part of a group of journalists to Qatar.

Phillips' office helped the family of an interpreter for U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan make it to Washington, D.C., and also aided four other families of interpreters. Three of the families are now in the U.S., according to Phillips' office, and one is in Italy.

Kelsey Mix, a spokesperson for Republican Eighth District Rep. Pete Stauber, said the office "has assisted in bringing two groups of Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants to the U.S. and have been working to help several others." Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer said in August his "office received nearly a dozen requests from Americans and Afghanis who assisted our troops overseas."

"Our casework team continues to look for ways to assist them and we will continue our work to bring every American home and keep our allies safe," said Emmer, who represents the Sixth District in central Minnesota, in a statement.

DFL Sen. Tina Smith's office has received more than 85 requests and worked directly on more than 70 cases. Staff members in Second District Rep. Angie Craig's office helped evacuate more than a dozen people who have now arrived in the United States, according to a spokesperson.

Before a bombing last month, a staff member in DFL Rep. Betty McCollum's office "was able to secure a few authorized passes for Afghan families who had tried multiple times to get through the gate/checkpoints to the Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) but had been turned away by the Taliban at checkpoints," a McCollum spokesperson said in an e-mail.

DFL Rep. Ilhan Omar said in a statement her office is working with 37 constituents and organizations in her Fifth District "to help over five hundred people find a permanent home," many of them refugees. Omar, a refugee from Somalia, added that "we will continue to fight to increase the refugee admissions cap and ensure America lives up to its ideals."

Klobuchar said she's talked with Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers about refugees coming into the state's Fort McCoy and touted Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz's pledge to welcome refugees into the state. So far, 35 refugees with Special Immigrant Visas who directly assisted the U.S. military have been relocated in Minnesota, according to a spokesman in Walz's office.

"Morally it's the right thing to do," Klobuchar said. "In the long term it's certainly good for Minnesota, a state [whose] economy has always thrived on people coming in and building roots here."