Opinion: Help needed for Afghans who have helped media

Abdul Wahid Forozan, a former translator for the American military in Afghanistan, holds a sign that reads "Keep Our Promise Save Our Allies" near the White House in Lafayette Square Park in Washington on July 1 during a rally hosted by the International Refugee Assistance Project, Human Rights First, and With Honor Action, to call for the evacuation of Afghan allies.

Abdul Wahid Forozan, a former translator for the American military in Afghanistan, holds a sign that reads “Keep Our Promise Save Our Allies” near the White House in Lafayette Square Park in Washington on July 1 during a rally hosted by the International Refugee Assistance Project, Human Rights First, and With Honor Action, to call for the evacuation of Afghan allies.

Associated Press

Editor’s note: This was a letter sent July 20 to President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, as well as to congressional leaders Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy from media organizations listed below.

We are a coalition of U.S. news organizations that have provided the American people and the world with coverage of Afghanistan for the past two decades. We write today to seek the U.S. government’s humanitarian assistance for those Afghans who have worked with the U.S. media as journalists, interpreters, and support staff and now fear retaliation from the Taliban for having courageously associated themselves with the American press. For those who fear reprisals, there is a critical need for a special visa program to allow them and their families to find safety in the United States.

Much attention has been given in recent weeks to the plight of Afghans who worked for the U.S. government and the expansion of the Special Immigration Visa program to assist them in seeking relocation and safety in the United States. The SIV program properly recognizes both their service and this country’s commitment to provide safe harbor to people who advanced America’s interest in Afghanistan. The SIV program does not reach those Afghans who have served U.S. news organizations. Yet they and their families face the same threat of retaliation from the Taliban, which views the American press as a legitimate target. The Taliban has long conducted a campaign of threatening and killing journalists.

We urge the creation of a visa program for Afghans who worked with the U.S. press and now seek safety in the United States. There is precedent for such an initiative. In 2008, Congress passed, and President Bush signed, legislation extending special immigration consideration to Iraqis who had worked with the U.S. news media. That program reached both journalists and support staff and extended to their immediate family members. The same sort of program is needed now for Afghanistan.

We do not have a reliable count at this time of the number of our Afghan colleagues who are in danger. But the number is undoubtedly modest — we estimate fewer than 1,000 people — because of the small number of news organizations that have operated in Afghanistan and the relatively small size of our operations.

The need for action is urgent. Designing and implementing a program and then processing applications will inevitably take time. Meanwhile, the withdrawal of U.S. forces is moving forward rapidly. We are doing what we can as private organizations to assist our former and current Afghan colleagues but our capacity to provide relief is limited. Without the assistance of the U.S. government, many of these Afghans face grievous harm and death for having done nothing more than lent their labor and skills to making certain the world knew what was going on in their country while U.S. troops were there for the past 20 years.

We thank you for your consideration of this important issue.

ABC News

The Atlantic Monthly Group LLC

The Boston Globe

Buzzfeed, Inc.

CBS News

Center for Investigative Reporting, Inc. (d/b/a “Reveal”)

CNN

Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

First Look Institute, Inc. (“The Intercept”)

FOX News Media

Hearst Corporation

Los Angeles Times Communications LLC

The McClatchy Company, LLC

National Public Radio, Inc.

NBCUniversal News Group

The New York Times Company

The New Yorker

Politico LLC

Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc.

VICE Media Group

The Washington Post

Committee to Protect Journalists

News Media Alliance

Radio Televisión Digital News Association

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press