WASHINGTON - On the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) highlighted the importance of passing her bipartisan amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to allow our Afghan allies in the United States to apply for permanent legal residency after undergoing additional rigorous vetting.
This amendment is based on the Afghan Adjustment Act, which was reintroduced last week, and is cosponsored by Senators Amy Klobuchar, Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chris Coons (D-DE), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Markwayne Mullin (R-OK).
“It's about our national security. It's about a covenant, a covenant, that we have made and we must keep to those who stand with us on the battlefield,” said Klobuchar. “This bill does right by Afghans who worked alongside our troops and shows the world that the United States of America, when we make a promise, we keep it.”
Klobuchar’s full floor remarks are below. Video is available for online viewing HERE.
Mr. President, I rise to state my intention to include the Afghan Adjustment Act as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.
This involved years of work. This bipartisan legislation is led with Senator Graham along with Senators Coons, Moran, Blumenthal, Murkowski, Shaheen, Wicker, Durbin, Tillis, and Mullin. Those are just the people who are cosponsoring this bill and there's going to be, there's many others that are supporting it on both sides of the aisle.
What is this about? Well, it's about our national security. It's about a covenant, a covenant, that we have made and we must keep to those who stand with us on the battlefield.
This bill does right by Afghans who worked alongside our troops and shows the world that the United States of America, when we make a promise, we keep it.
Nearly 80,000 Afghans who sought refuge in our country are currently in limbo. In just the last few weeks, one of them, who was a translator for our military, who was working two jobs to support his family, who was living in legal limbo, was murdered, murdered in the middle of the night working as a Lyft driver.
Is that keeping our covenant? Is that keeping our promise?
Many of these people are those who risked their own lives and their family’s safety to protect our service members. That is why this bill is so strongly supported by the American Legion, by the VFW, and that is why it has gotten support from people on both sides of the aisle.
These are people who are in our country right now. They're in our country right now. And what this bill does is simply say that they will be vetted, but that we will also keep our promise to those who stood by our military, among them our translators and humanitarian workers, as well as courageous members of the Afghan military who stood shoulder to shoulder with our troops.
They cannot go back. They would be killed. We were right to help these people flee the Taliban and come to the United States and it now falls on us to help provide them with the stability and the security they need to rebuild their lives here.
So many of them want to move on with their lives here in the United States of America, our country that they stood with. We have seen this before. We saw it with the Hmong and the Vietnamese when they came to our country. And many of them now, who are they? They're police officers. They’re doctors. They’re firefighters. They're people who teach our kids. That is how this has worked in the past and it has been successful and it will be successful now.
The bipartisan Afghan Adjustment Act creates a more efficient system for our Afghan allies to apply for permanent legal status. It’s provisional permanent legal status. The legislation makes the process more thorough, as I noted, by requiring applicants to go through vetting that is just as rigorous as the vetting they would have gone through if they came to the United States as refugees, including an in-person interview, a standard that eight - eight - former Donald Trump and George W. Bush administration national security officials called the gold standard of vetting. The gold standard of vetting.
Senator Graham and I work closely with many Republicans including Senator Moran, who has been so helpful as Ranking Member of the Veterans Committee, on this bill, including Senator Wicker who is on this bill, the Ranking Member of Armed Services, and the Department of Defense to strengthen the bill's vetting provisions and to add language that responds to concerns.
In addition, the legislation updates a Special Immigrant Visa program to include groups that should never have been excluded from the program in the first place, including the female tactical teams of Afghanistan, which did so much to support our troops. The entire purpose of the Special Immigrant Visa program is to provide permanent residency to those who have supported the United States abroad. And it's clear to me that these brave women should also qualify.
The bill also requires the administration to implement a strategy for supporting Afghans outside of the United States who are eligible for SIV status and ensures that these applicants have a way to get answers from the State Department about their applications.
The Afghan Adjustment Act, as I noted, is sponsored by a bipartisan group of 11 cosponsors with many more who are going to vote for it and has earned the backing of more than 60 organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, as well as some of our nation's most revered military leaders, including Admirals Mike Mullen, William McRaven, and James Stavridis and Generals Richard Myers of the Air Force, Joseph Dunford from the Marine Corps, and Stan McChrystal from the Army.
Part of the reason we were able to build such a broad coalition for our bill is because it is modeled after other bipartisan legislation that Congress passed after previous armed conflicts. After the Vietnam War, Congress passed a law, as I noted, that allowed thousands of people to resettle in the U.S., including many Hmong refugees who now call Minnesota home.
As I noted, they are such success stories. They are in the Legislature. They are farmers and bakers. They are builders and inventors. They started families.
Congress also acted similarly following the Cuban resolution and the Iraq war to protect allies and friends. In each instance, our country welcomed these immigrants and we have benefited immeasurably from their contributions. If we act to help our Afghan allies just as we helped other allies, we will continue this tradition of not leaving people behind, of keeping our covenants.
Think of these stories. A few months ago, I had a meeting with a group of Afghan women who served in the Afghan National Army's Female Tactical Platoon, including one of the group's commanders, Mahnaz. Our troops heavily relied on the Platoon during the war, as our soldiers pursued missions hunting down ISIS combatants on unforgiving terrain and freeing prisoners from the grips of the Taliban. These women had their backs. The platoon worked especially closely with our military’s support team and facilitated conversations between our soldiers and the Afghan women that they crossed paths with in the field.
Mahnaz? She's now living in limbo. But some of her biggest advocates fighting for her and her platoon to secure residencies are the American soldiers they served with and I know every one of my colleagues has heard from American soldiers about these brave Afghans that served with our soldiers. In U.S. Army Captain Mary Kolars’ words, Mahnaz might as well be my sister. They've sacrificed for their country and for ours, the bond between our units is inseparable.
The deep respect is mutual. Mahnaz knows what her sacrifice cost her. She's more than 6,000 miles from the place she once called home with little hope of ever returning. She’s separated from so many of the people she once shared her life with. But even knowing the cost of her sacrifice, she said she would do it all again. I am in absolute awe of her grit and her patriotism, and the many stories. I will be telling these stories every day throughout this week and I hope that we will come together and make sure that she and so many other of these brave Afghans have a path in this country.
It is example after example of these stories. Ahmad spent four years training to serve in the Afghan military. He was selected for Afghanistan's elite aviation unit, which worked closely with America’s military in our fight against the Taliban. Reflecting on his experience, he said “In the face of danger, we were united, we were relentless, we were resilient.”
His helicopter was shot down—not once—but twice. But that didn’t diminish his resolve.
But his experience since the evacuation has been shattering. He now lives in Alabama, thousands and thousands of miles away from his family. He works two jobs to make ends meet and sends what he can back to the loved ones he left behind. And he knows full well that the foundation he’s building here in America could dissolve in a second if he doesn’t get some kind of provisional status, which this Congress can grant just as it did with the Vietnamese and the Hmong and after the Iraq War and after the Cuban Revolution. He was there for us in time of need, and we must be there.
Another man—I’m not going to reveal his name, he has asked that it not be revealed because of his family back in Afghanistan. While he and his wife and children were able to evacuate to the U.S., he lives in fear of the Taliban retaliating against his other loved ones back in Afghanistan.
He served in the Afghan National Army for years and worked as a liaison with our forces. He even trained in the U.S., graduating from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. But Afghanistan was his home, and he always believed that was where he would remain.
That changed when the Taliban seized control. Fearing for his safety, he and his family rushed to the airport in Kabul, weaving through countless Taliban checkpoints—knowing that any wrong move would be their last. Today, he is in Kansas, but the anxiety for the people at home and not knowing if he too will be sent back.
Another story—a man named Tashmorad. He is afraid that the Taliban will target his family if his name becomes public, and that’s why this isn’t really his name, but it’s the name he asked be used. Back in his home country, he flew missions with the Afghan Air Force. To use his words, his job was to, “capture the bad guys like Al-Qaeda and Taliban.”
He had dreamt of flying since he first saw an Afghan pilot make an emergency landing in his village when he was about ten years old. When he found out that he would have to learn English to fly, he started trying to teach himself from a book he bought at a local shop. He went on to earn a degree in language and culture with a focus on aviation and then took part in flight training from our military—from the U.S. military.
He then spent ten years as a military pilot, where he flew as high as 25,000 feet, helping American soldiers identify Taliban positions in the mountains of Afghanistan. He was stationed about three hundred miles from his family when the withdrawal began. His squadron leader ordered him to fly back to support the evacuation. Even though it was getting dark, he turned his airplane’s lights off to avoid being detected and shot down by the Taliban. Because of his tact and skill, he landed safely. His commanders advised him not to leave the airport, but he knew he needed to see his family.
He made a brief trip home to his pregnant wife and kids and said goodbye before he returned to join the airlift operation. That was almost two years ago, and he hasn’t seen his family since.
Today he lives in Roanoke, Virginia. He delivers food to make money. He works as a water technician. Every extra cent that he makes, he sends back to his family.
He still dreams of flying, but more than that, he dreams of reuniting with his wife and kids. He dreams of buying a two-bedroom house for his family. And he dreams of a safe and stable life in the country he risked everything for.
More stories—two Afghan Air Force pilots and friends. Their paths to become women pilots were hardly straightforward, but through sheer persistence and skill, they both made it happen. The two women were at an aviation training in Dubai when the withdrawal began. In an instant, their lives were turned upside down.
I ask you to imagine how you would feel if you were in a foreign country and you realized that you couldn’t safely—all the sudden—couldn’t return home. They knew that their careers put their loved ones at risk, so they called their families and told them to round up their uniforms, their pilot IDs, and their diplomas—and burn them. Hasina watched over a video call as her mom destroyed the evidence of the life she had worked so hard to build.
“All my dreams were on fire,” she once reflected, “and I was just watching.”
She arrived in the United States—she and her friend—with one suitcase each. They began waiting tables at a strip mall in Fort Myers, Florida… hoping to one day return to the skies.
Those are just a few of the examples. My colleagues, there are 80,000 of those stories—80,000 of those stories. And we have a covenant to keep. You talk to any soldier that served over in Afghanistan, and they will have stories to tell, and it is our job to uphold the promises that were made to those that served with us. Because if we don’t uphold those promises, what do you think is going to happen the next time when we ask others to serve with our own military?
I am so proud that we have such strong bipartisan support for this amendment, that we have those in the Senate that have worked on these issues for so long supporting this. And I am convinced that if —when we have the vote on this amendment, we will finally be able to put our heads up proudly and say our covenant has been kept. Thank you very much. I yield the floor.