A provision increasing the number of visas for Afghan and Iraqi civilians who assisted U.S. troops was left out of a sweeping defense authorization bill , but Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain is not giving up without a fight.
The Armed Services chairman said he is expecting a battle over the issue on the Senate floor when the National Defense Authorization Act comes up next week.
"We’re fighting it hard. It’s a bipartisan effort to get it done,” McCain said on Thursday at the Brookings Institution. “I think we can succeed on the floor of the Senate because I intend to shame them.”
Congress first enacted a program granting Afghan and Iraqi civilians special immigrant visas in 2006. Many of those civilians worked as translators for American troops on the ground. But this year's defense bill did not include an increase in visas for Afghan interpreters.
[ Found in Translation ] "Any expert on Iraq or Afghanistan will tell you they’re the number one target. They’re the number one target for terrorists because they cooperated with the United States," McCain said. "Isn’t it unconscionable for us not to allow them to come to the United States if they want to, after what they did for us?"
Advocates who argue for an increased number of visas point to a backlog in the Afghan immigrant program. According to an April 2016 State Department report , nearly 10,000 Afghans have applications pending or being processed.
The special immigrant visa program is one of several issues expected to come up as the Senate considers the defense bill, which includes $602 billion in funding for the Defense Department as well as national security programs of the Energy Department.
[ McCain Bill Reignites Debate Over Guantanamo ] McCain said he also plans to introduce an amendment to boost funding by $17 billion, bringing the funding to 2016 levels. He decried a spending cap as "arbitrary."
“I don’t know whether or not this amendment will succeed,” McCain said, “but the Senate must have this debate and the Senate must choose a side.”