Naseri, formerly an interpreter for the United States Marine Corps in Afghanistan, poses for a portrait in the home of his father-in-law in Kabul in 2019.

Naseri, formerly an interpreter for the United States Marine Corps in Afghanistan, poses for a portrait in the home of his father-in-law in Kabul in 2019. Andrew Quilty for The Washington Post via Getty Images

First Wave of Afghan Interpreters Head to Fort Lee

Arriving families will stay for the moment in barracks or other housing; the State Department will pick up their food and medical costs.

Afghan interpreters and their families who have been cleared to come to the United States will be initially housed at Fort Lee, Va., the White House announced Monday. 

The Army base—and potentially other military installations in the U.S.—will serve as a short-term home for arriving Afghans whose work for the United States during military operations in Afghanistan has imperiled them and their families.

“These are brave Afghans and their families whose service to the United States has been certified by the embassy in Kabul and have completed thorough SIV security vetting processes,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price. 

The first chartered flights of evacuating Afghans are expected to arrive before the end of the month, Price said.

So far, about 700 interpreters and 1,800 of their dependents have been cleared for evacuation to the United States, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said. 

Fort Lee is located about 130 miles south of the Pentagon, close to Richmond. 

“We’re going to give these people a safe place to stay for a few days while they finish the processing that they have to finish before they can then be resettled elsewhere in the United States,” Kirby said. 

The new arrivals will be housed in a mix of single dorm rooms and family housing units at Fort Lee, and perhaps at other military installations if more space is needed. But the Afghans are not expected to stay long-term, and are not expected to arrive all at once, Kirby said. During their stay, they will receive additional medical screening as the final step in completing the SIV process, Kirby said.  Their stay, medical care and food and housing costs will be covered by the State Department, Kirby said. 

“The State Department will work with OMB for appropriate funding for this,” Kirby said. 

The State Department has said that about 18,000 interpreters are seeking a special immigrant visa for themselves and their family members. As of June, most of those applicants were only in the early stages of their paperwork and security vetting. 

Applicants who will require additional vetting will likely be housed at military installations outside of the United States while they wait for approval, Kirby said. 

Even as interpreters are starting to leave Afghanistan, the White House is continuing to work with Capitol Hill to improve the process of bringing other translators who are still awaiting help to the United States. On Monday, the Biden administration issued a statement supporting a bipartisan bill that would remove some burdensome application requirements to speed up how quickly officials can process visas. The Averting Loss of Life and Injury by Expediting SIVs Act of 2021 would also allow the administration to issue an additional 8,000 visas. 

“This legislation supports the president’s goal of ensuring the United States meets our commitments to those who served with us in Afghanistan,” the administration’s statement said. “The current security situation in Afghanistan presents a serious threat to these partners and we must be able to do more to get them to safety.”

The House also recently passed the Honoring Our Promises Through Expedition for Afghan SIVs Act of 2021, which would waive the requirement for interpreters and their families to get a medical exam before receiving a visa, though they would need to get one within 30 days of arriving in America.