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What Virginia lawmakers are doing to get people out of Afghanistan

US Afghanistan
Posted at 3:56 PM, Aug 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-20 15:56:09-04

WASHINGTON -- President Joe Biden is pledging to Americans still trapped in Afghanistan: “We will get you home.”

Biden’s comments at a White House news conference Friday come as the U.S. government struggles to ramp up a massive airlift clearing Americans and other foreigners and vulnerable Afghans, rescuing them from a Taliban takeover of the country.

He said the commitment extends to Afghans who have assisted the U.S. in the long war.

Biden is facing criticism from some at home for the chaotic and often violent scene outside the airport as crowds struggle to reach safety. Flights from the Kabul airport had stopped for several hours Friday before resuming.

Virginia lawmakers are also working to bring Americans and SIV-eligible Afghans back to Virginia. CBS 6 reached out to Central Virginia's representatives to ask about the effort:

Sen. Tim Kaine (D - Virginia)

“My staff and I are doing everything we can to help with the evacuation of Americans, as well as SIV-eligible (Special Immigrant Visa) and other at risk Afghans, to get them to safety as quickly as possible," Sen. Tim Kaine (D - Virginia) said in a statement. "I send my sincerest gratitude to our brave servicemembers and our State Department personnel for working around the clock to accomplish this critical mission. I urge any Virginian in need of assistance for themselves or a loved one to contact my office.”

Virginians seeking assistance with evacuations should contact Senator Kaine’s office.

Sen. Mark Warner (D - Virginia)

“My office is in touch with a number of U.S. citizens and SIV-eligible Afghans who are desperately trying to get to safety," Sen. Mark Warner (D - Virginia) said in a statement. "We are communicating closely with staff from State Department and Department of Defense to get as many of them out of Afghanistan as safely and as quickly as possible, knowing that time is of the essence here.”

Rep. Rob Wittman (R - District 1)

"Presently, Congressman Wittman is assisting roughly 50 families with close relatives in Afghanistan to apply for Special Immigrant Visas or Humanitarian Parole," spokesperson Brandon Wear wrote in an email. "He is also regularly updating his constituents on developments with this process through his newsletter and social media. He previously authored a letter urging the State Department to fix issues with the SIV program anticipating issues such as the ones we see now."

Wittman's office provided the following example:

"Constituent A [full name redacted for security reasons] initially contacted our office on July 15th requesting our assistance in getting his wife’s visa processed. He served as a linguist for U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan and is a U.S. citizen residing in Prince William County.

On Thursday, August 12th, as the situation in Afghanistan deteriorated, our office reached out again to the Embassy in Kabul about his wife.

On Monday, August 16th, our office contacted the State Department and requested that she be evacuated while her visa was processing.

Constituent A contacted our office later that day on Monday, August 16th to let us know that his wife had received an email from State Department telling her to come to the airport.

On Tuesday, August 17th, constituent A called to let us know that his wife had been turned away at the airport but was still waiting outside of the gate. Later that day, Rep. Wittman's staff spoke to State Department and explained the situation. Wittman's staff participated in a conference call with State Department Staff and constituent A regarding his wife’s situation and emailed more information about her exact location outside the airport gate as well of the dire circumstances that she faced as a young woman by herself. Wittman's staff continued to communicate with State Dept. staff as day wore on. Our office sent below email to State Department regarding her situation (names redacted):

Subject: RE: URGENT WIFE OF US CITIZEN TURNED AWAY AT AIRPORT, AFTER RECEIVING EMAIL FROM STATE TO COME TO AIRPORT

K,
Thanks for your help with this case. XXXX is about 15-20 meters from the 1st gate going into the airport. There is tear gas and fires everywhere. She is the only woman in the area and as I understand does not have a hijab or anything to cover her head. Her telephone number XXX and is working. Her email address is XXXX. Her situation is pretty dire, again any help would be greatly appreciated.

On Tuesday, August 17th, at 10pm, RJW staff spoke to constituent A and then staff reached out to State Department to let them know that she was still in hiding outside HKIA gate and emphasized how dire her situation had become. Wittman's staff requested that she be allowed to wait inside the airport while her case was processing.

Wednesday, August 18th – 7am, RJW staff spoke to constituent A and he let staff know that his wife had been evacuated out of Afghanistan. Staff later learned from constituent A that she had safely landed in Qatar."

Rep. Donald McEachin (D - District 4)

"Rep. McEachin’s caseworkers are currently managing six separate cases involving individuals in Afghanistan. The Congressman and his staff are working diligently with the State Department to assist these folks and support efforts to get them out of the country," spokesperson Shahid Ahmed wrote in an email.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D - District 7)

Rep. Spanberger's office said they have been in contact with dozens of U.S. citizens and SIV applicants still in Afghanistan and families of SIV applicants who made it out of the country. Their goal is to get these people to the airport and out of the country.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.