The first flight of about 200 Afghan interpreters and their families arrived at Fort Lee near Petersburg on July 30, as evacuations began for those who worked for years with the United States military and faced threats from the resurgent Taliban, which has gained control of more territory after the U.S. withdrawal.
The first stop was temporary processing and a physical exam, said Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, who briefed reporters July 29.
Warner said the Afghani translators have worked with U.S. and NATO forces for 20 years, and he wants to ensure they “do not get left to be massacred by the Taliban.”
He added that the translators will not be at Fort Lee for long. “It’ll be the start of a resettlement process,” he said. “These families will then be sponsored by families across the nation. But it is incumbent on the United States of America to stand by those who stood with us in the Afghan struggle.”
White House Press Secretary Jenn Psaki said in a briefing that about 20,000 interpreters have applied for special immigrant visas.
“Those who have not completed background checks would first be relocated from Afghanistan to a U.S. military base overseas, or to a safe third country while they attain clearance,” she said.
Warner noted that the Department of Defense chose Fort Lee, south of Richmond, as the processing center, for its proven capability. “I think it was because Fort Lee has the type of facility to be able to house this kind of surge of population.”
On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a new resettlement program to expand protections of people not covered by current legislation.
“We know that there are Afghans who don’t qualify but who helped us and deserve our help. Some may not have the qualifying employment for the special immigrant visa – for example, they worked for a project funded by the U.S. government, but not for the government itself,” Blinken said. “Some may not have met the minimum time-in-service requirement – for example, employees who began working for us more recently. And some were employed by American media organizations or NGOs, doing vital work to support democratic progress in Afghanistan.”