Jason Crow knows firsthand the bond that develops between U.S. soldiers and allies.
"These are people that we get very close to, that we’re living with, and fighting alongside, sometimes for many years," says the Democrat, who prior to becoming the representative for Colorado's 6th Congressional District served in the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Today, October 30, Crow and Republican congressman Michael Waltz from Florida introduced the Syrian Partner Protection Act, which would establish a special immigrant visa for Syrian Kurds who have helped the U.S. fight the Islamic State, or ISIS.
"This sends a very strong message that the U.S. handshake is good, that we protect people who risk their lives to help us accomplish our mission, and there is no greater example of this than the Syrian Democratic Forces," says Crow, whose district includes Aurora, Centennial and Littleton.
For the past four years, soldiers from the SDF, a majority of whom are Kurdish, have partnered with the U.S. to battle ISIS fighters. The anti-ISIS coalition has taken back much of the territory that ISIS has claimed since 2014.
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But in early October, President Donald Trump announced that the United States would largely abandon its Kurdish allies by withdrawing the majority of troops in northeastern Syria, which many politicians saw as a betrayal of a key partner. Many have argued that the abandonment of Syrian Kurds could lead to a devastating situation, since Turkey views the SDF as a terrorist organization akin to ISIS. Turkey, together with militias that it backs, has launched an offensive to take back land in northeastern Syria that had been controlled by Kurdish forces.
Like the visas Iraqis and Afghans who worked with U.S. soldiers and officials were given during the George W. Bush administration, Crow's bill could be a lifeline for some Syrians to resettle in the U.S. Maytham Alshadood, Crow's district office director, came to the U.S. on a Bush-era visa after serving as a combat interpreter for U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
The bill specifies that applicants should expect to receive a response on whether they've been granted a visa within nine months. Grantees would receive the same resettlement benefits offered to refugees, like temporary welfare assistance and help finding housing. Visas would also be given to widows and immediate family members of SDF fighters killed during combat. While the majority of SDF fighters are Kurdish, non-Kurdish SDF members could also qualify for the visa.
Crow says that he's confident that the bill will gain support in both chambers of Congress; he points to "the very strong and swift bipartisan response to the administration’s decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria" as evidence that a majority of elected officials disagree with the Trump administration's decision. All seven members of Colorado's congressional delegation voted for a resolution opposing the pullout from northeastern Syria.