The House of Representatives on Thursday overwhelmingly approved legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jason Crow to increase the number of visas available for Afghan interpreters and others who are facing retribution for aiding U.S. and coalition forces during the 20-year war.
The bill would also speed the process and allow family members to continue in the program if an original applicant has died.
“Some members of this body, including me, may not be here without the service and sacrifice of Afghans who answered the call to serve shoulder-to-shoulder with us,” said Crow, a Centennial Democrat and Army Ranger combat veteran who served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"As we withdraw from Afghanistan, we must honor our promises and protect those that protected us."
Dubbed the ALLIES Act, the bill is part of an effort led by military veterans in Congress to expedite the special immigrant visa program as the Biden administration moves toward withdrawing forces by the end of August. The bill raises the number of visas available under the program from 11,000 to 19,000 and removes some application requirements.
The bill passed on a vote of 407-16, with all opposition coming from Republican lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert of Silt.
The other members of Colorado's House delegation supported the bill, including co-sponsors U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette, a Denver Democrat; Joe Neguse, a Lafayette Democrat; and Ken Buck, a Windsor Republican. DeGette, who was meeting with Interior Secretary Deborah Haaland in Denver on Thursday, didn't vote on the measure.
The Biden administration has registered its support for the bill, which heads to the Senate.
“This legislation supports the President’s goal of ensuring the United States meets our commitments to those who served with us in Afghanistan," the White House said in a statement. "H.R. 3985 will assist in our efforts to streamline the application process by removing or revising some statutory requirements the Administration has found to be unnecessary and burdensome, while maintaining appropriate security vetting, and by increasing the total number of visas available to help meet the demand.”
Earlier this week, the legislation won endorsements from former defense secretaries Robert Gates and Chuck Hagel, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and retired Admiral Michael Mullen, a former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, along with other prominent national security figures.
The Biden administration his week announced that roughly 2,500 Afghans who helped the U.S. government will be evacuated along with their families to Fort Lee in Virginia while their visas are being processed.
Last month, the House passed another bill sponsored by Crow intended to ease the visa application process by waiving a requirement that Afghans get medical examinations in Afghanistan, which have been available only at a single clinic in Kabul.