Washington, DC – Today, Congresswomen Jackie Speier (CA-14), Lois Frankel (FL-21) and Brenda Lawrence (MI-14), Co-Chairs of the Democratic Women’s Caucus, and Congresswomen Veronica Escobar (TX-16) and Sylvia Garcia (TX-29), Vice Chairs of the Democratic Women’s Caucus, Congressman Ted Lieu (CA-33) and Congressman Jason Crow (CO-06) introduced legislation to expand access to the U.S. refugee system for certain vulnerable Afghans as conditions continue to worsen in the region. The Improving Access for Afghan Refugees Act designates Afghans who are particularly at risk of persecution, including human rights defenders, civil servants, officials, journalists, women activists, and judicial workers, as a Priority 2 group of special humanitarian concern for the purposes of refugee processing.

“The conditions for civil society, women, journalists and others in Afghanistan have become untenable, with more than 700 people murdered and 540 wounded in targeted killings last year alone. That represents a 45 percent increase over the previous year. Journalists, human rights activists, and judicial workers are often targeted on hit lists that circulate on social media. And women face even greater risk of death and violence, with the number of women killed more than doubling between 2012 and 2020,” Rep. Speier said. “Their valiant fight for their country and ideals is to be commended, but their circumstances are expected to become even more dire as the Taliban’s territorial offensives rage across the country. I urge my colleagues to join me in passing this bill to ensure that the U.S. takes urgent action and fulfills its moral obligation to help protect these vulnerable and exposed people.”

“We may be ending our war in Afghanistan, but the fight for the rights of Afghan women and other vulnerable groups isn’t over yet,” Rep. Frankel said. “This bill will allow Afghan journalists, activists, civil servants, and other brave defenders of civil rights to seek refuge in the U.S. in order to stay safe during this turbulent time.”

“The most vulnerable populations in Afghanistan, including women, children, journalists, and human rights activists, face increased risk of persecution, death, and violence. As the United States stands as a beacon of hope and human rights, we have a responsibility to help those in need,” Rep. Lawrence said. “I’m proud that the Democratic Women’s Caucus is leading the charge in introducing the Improving Access for Afghan Refugees Act. We cannot turn away from the injustice that is happening in Afghanistan. Today and every day, the United States will continue to fight to better the lives of people here at home and around the world.”

“As American troops withdraw from Afghanistan, the lives, freedom, and future of Afghan women and other vulnerable populations are on the line,” Rep. Escobar said. “The Improving Access for Afghan Refugees Act would protect Afghans who are particularly at risk of persecution by providing them a safe haven and ensuring they can build a better future – free of danger and fear – in America.”

“Women, Journalists, Activists, and judicial workers are often the targets of violence because of their efforts to safeguard freedom of speech, social issues, and transparency practices in Afghanistan. This needs to stop,” Rep. Garcia said. “It is our moral duty to protect these people who have fought for human rights in their country and are in constant danger. I am proud to be working with my dear friends and colleagues from the Democratic Women’s Caucus on this effort."

“Afghans working for democracy and stability continue to face the threat of violence and retribution. Although I have been adamant that the United States end its endless wars, we can still ensure humanitarian compassion, especially for those who may be persecuted for their work to bolster human rights, women’s rights, or provide information to the American people. There are numerous populations of vulnerable Afghans that deserve protection, and I am pleased to join Rep. Speier and our colleagues in pushing for Priority 2 refugee status for vulnerable Afghans,” Rep. Lieu said.

“My own service in Afghanistan made it clear that there is no military solution to the war in Afghanistan. As the U.S. withdraws troops from Afghanistan, we must honor our promises and protect the lives of our partners, women, activists, and other vulnerable populations. The House has already passed bipartisan legislation to expedite the visa process for interpreters and other contractors who helped U.S. forces. Now, we must expand refugee status to democracy workers, activists, and journalists who are under increased threat from the Taliban,” Rep. Crow said.

Priority 2 status removes barriers to accessing the U.S. refugee system by allowing individuals to seek resettlement in the United States without a third party referral. It also indicates that members of the group are of special interest to the United States and likely to qualify for admission under U.S. law. In addition to establishing a Priority 2 designation for certain Afghans, the bill also authorizes the Secretary of State to identify and protect other persecuted groups in Afghanistan as Priority 2 refugees.

"We have a moral responsibility to offer a pathway to safety for human rights defenders and other populations in harm's way due to the nature of their work. Women activists in particular are being targeted and killed by the Taliban for publicly promoting gender equality, peace, and democracy. The international community, especially the US, cannot turn their back on these women after 20 years of supporting them and promising to stand by them," said Tanya Henderson, Executive Director of Mina's List, an organization that has been working to promote Afghan women in the peace process.

A copy of the bill text is attached to this press release below.