By JULIE WATSON and BERNARD CONDON
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Veteran-led rescue groups say the Biden administration’s estimate that no more than 200 U.S. citizens were left behind in Afghanistan is too low and also overlooks hundreds of other people they consider to be equally American: permanent legal residents with green cards.
Some groups say they continue to be contacted by American citizens in Afghanistan who did not register with the U.S. Embassy before it closed and by others not included in previous counts because they expressed misgivings about leaving loved ones behind.
As for green card holders, they have lived in the U.S. for years, paid taxes, become part of their communities and often have children who are U.S. citizens. Yet the administration says it does not have an estimate on the number of such permanent residents who are in Afghanistan and desperately trying to escape Taliban rule.
“The fear is that nobody is looking for them,” said Howard Shen, spokesman for the Cajon Valley Union School District in the San Diego area that is in contact with one such family who says they cannot get out.
“They are thousands of miles away under an oppressive regime and we’re leaving them behind,” he said. “That’s not right.”
Republican Rep. Darrell Issa’s office said he is working to evacuate an 80-year-old couple who are both U.S. citizens and live in San Diego County, along with two other families from his congressional district that covers El Cajon.
The administration says 6,000 U.S. citizens made it out, most on U.S. military flights.
Issa said he believes the number of U.S. citizens still there and wanting to leave is closer to 500. That includes roughly the number the State Department says made clear they want to leave and additional U.S. citizens who were not counted because they expressed concern about “leaving behind family members to die.”
If you include the family members of U.S. citizens, the number of people could be as high as 1,000, he added.
“Unless we continue and get the rest of our American citizens, and all those otherwise eligible out, we won’t have done our job,” Issa said.