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Guam 'will support' hosting Afghan evacuees, if needed

As of Tuesday, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero had not received official word whether Guam will be used as a temporary evacuation site for Afghan evacuees but said she will support bringing them to the island should the U.S. government make the decision.

There are less than three months left before American troops completely withdraw from Afghanistan on Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the attacks that drew America to its longest war.

Leon Guerrero said Guam hosted evacuees in the past, and it can do so once again if need be.

"We are a people that protect our freedom, protect our island, protect our nation. And certainly, we will be there to support whatever the military’s decision is. I know that we will be working very closely once we get the official word to move forward," the governor said during Monday's Memorial Day event.

As of Tuesday, her office said there remains no word from the federal government.

The White House continues to weigh its options and faces increasingly urgent calls to evacuate Afghans who helped the U.S. military, many as interpreters, during the 20-year war and are at risk of being hunted down by the Taliban after U.S. troops completely pull out from Afghanistan.

Advocates said Afghan evacuees need to be sent now to Guam or other U.S. territories while their special immigrant visa, or SIV, applications to resettle in the U.S. are being processed.

In 1975 and 1996, the U.S. evacuated its Vietnamese and Kurdish allies, respectively, to Guam, while their permanent visa applications were processed. Advocates and Congress members said the same can be done now for Afghan allies.

"If it is going to be Guam, and if it is going to be over here that they will expedite their visas and so forth, then we will support that. (It is) of course a military program, it is under the military’s authority – but whatever we can do in our patriotic way, in our way of ensuring peace and freedom, absolutely," the governor added.

While a key military official confirmed last week that they are drafting plans for an evacuation should President Joe Biden order one, advocates and Congress members have been pressing for details.

Time is running out, they said, to process about 18,000 SIV applications from Afghans who served as interpreters and translators for American troops.

"To ensure that Afghans who are going through the SIV program are protected, it is imperative that we use American territory such as Guam as a staging ground for the remainder of their screenings and assessment," said Chris Purdy, project manager for Veterans for American Ideals program at Human Rights First.

Purdy also said housing Afghans on American territory allows the U.S. immigration services to efficiently and appropriately vet SIVs, while significantly reducing operational costs.

"This operation must begin now and the Biden administration must coordinate with state and local officials, in Guam or elsewhere, to ensure a seamless welcome of our Afghan allies," he said.

Purdy and other advocates of the evacuation of Afghan allies have spoken to The Guam Daily Post on the need to start evacuating Afghan allies to Guam or other U.S. territories, before the U.S. troops' withdrawal.

Kim Staffieri, co-founder of the Association of Wartime Allies, shared some stories of special immigrant visa, or SIV, applicants who helped American troops and who need more time to get their SIV application approved.

One served with the U.S. Armed Forces from 2003 to 2014, and applied for his special immigrant visa in 2014.

Just about three weeks ago or seven years after he applied, his Chief of Mission Approval, which is needed for his SIV applications, got revoked by the State Department because of a paperwork error made in his records back in 2014.

The man was deemed to be not giving "faithful and valuable service" due to the paperwork error, yet he continued to serve the U.S. for a decade after this instance happened.

Staffieri, who co-founded a group that offers a real-time, interactive environment in which SIV applicants receive real-time support for their U.S. visa applications, said this particular Afghan man is allowed to appeal the decision.

"Yet as you can imagine, trying to locate U.S. troops that he worked with 17 years ago proves to be a major stumbling block in this effort, yet this is our challenge now as it's the only way to reverse this error out of his record," Staffieri said. 

Another Afghan ally, she said, had to flee for his and his family's safety after armed Taliban showed up at his doorsteps in search of him in Kabul.

On Monday, the governor said she had just spoken to outgoing Joint Region Marianas Rear Adm. John Menoni and "there's really been no official word. He hasn’t heard anything."

Adm. John Aquilino, commander of the U.S. military's Indo-Pacific Command, also hasn't said a word, she said.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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