She was lucky to escape Afghanistan. Two years later, she’s stuck in limbo.

Mahnaz Akbari was supposed to be one of the lucky ones.

The former commander of an Afghan military all-female special ops team, Akbari was among the 77,000 U.S. allies successfully evacuated to the United States when the Taliban retook her country. An additional 200,000 or so are trapped abroad, awaiting processing by the U.S. government.

But her place in the country that took her in is precarious.

“I’m in a legal limbo,” she says. That’s because, almost two years after the United States withdrew its last forces from Afghanistan, Congress has failed to deliver on the promises made to our allies in America’s longest war.

The U.S. government pledged to protect those who aided our military and diplomatic interests. But it never fully developed the legal and administrative capacity to do so. Most of those we hastily evacuated from Afghanistan ended up coming here through a sort of short-term workaround measure, full of temporary and uncertain extensions, called “humanitarian parole.”

This means that people such as Akbari have no direct path to permanent legal status, leaving them unsure about their ability to stay and work in the United States. Akbari fears what might happen if she gets booted back to Afghanistan, and remains guilt-ridden over the family members she left behind, who are now in danger thanks to her work aiding U.S. interests.

Akbari had worked as a calligraphy teacher and supply-chain manager. Then, in 2011, she was recruited to accompany U.S. and Afghan forces on night raids against the Taliban, the Islamic State and other terrorist targets. During such actions, she and her fellow Female Tactical Platoon mates handled the terrorists’ wives, mothers, sisters, children — people who were often the keepers of SIM cards and other sensitive information, but whom, for religious and cultural reasons, Akbari’s male military counterparts were not allowed to touch.

Akbari’s work was critical to U.S. national security interests. It was also dangerous. Two American female soldiers were killed on such missions, she says, and six Afghan female colleagues were wounded. Akbari remains immensely proud of her service to her country. She is eager to resume serving by joining the U.S. military but cannot do so until she gets a green card.

Which, for the foreseeable future, is unavailable.

Like many other Afghans who entered through parole, she has applied for asylum — a separate, convoluted and notoriously backlogged process. It’s supposed to be expedited for Afghan parolees, but only a tiny sliver of Afghan applicants have been successfully adjudicated, with the rest stuck in what could be a years-long queue.

Akbari fears that, by the time her asylum application is settled and she subsequently becomes eligible to apply for a green card, she will be too old to serve in the U.S. military.

In the meantime, she says she’s grateful for opportunities she has been granted in the United States, including many facilitated by U.S. service members she once worked alongside. But she finds it difficult to plan a future, because many prospective employers are reluctant to hire someone whose ongoing work eligibility remains uncertain.

There is a solution to cases such as Akbari’s: the Afghan Adjustment Act.

This bill would, among other things, allow Afghans in the United States to apply for permanent legal status after undergoing additional vetting. This would be on top of the extensive vetting this population already endured when entrusted to protect U.S. service members’ lives in Afghanistan, and then again when paroled into the United States.

A version of the legislation was introduced last year and went nowhere. It was reintroduced last month, sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, and with modifications intended to address some Republicans’ stated concerns about security screening. Yet some GOP lawmakers, such as Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.), are still attempting to politicize the issue by tying Afghan evacuees’ legal status to unrelated immigration measures.

The Afghan Adjustment Act has the backing of a wide variety of groups. Human rights advocates and religious leaders support it because they worry about what happens to Afghan evacuees — particularly women and dissidents — who lose their legal status. National security experts fear that, failing this measure, we might struggle to recruit allies in the future. Local officials want the Afghan neighbors contributing to their communities to be able to stay.

But perhaps the loudest supporters are veterans’ organizations. They argue that our failure to patch this legal issue injures not only brave allies such as Akbari but also the U.S. service members whom they aided. Some veterans are distraught by the abandonment of their friends and comrades.

“Members of Congress keep coming back and saying, ‘Hey, thank you for your service. We appreciate you. We value your commitment to this country,’” says Chris Purdy, director of Veterans for American Ideals. And yet when it comes to our shattered duty to our allies, he says, Congress “won’t do what it needs to do to pick up the pieces.”

Catherine Rampell is an opinion columnist at The Washington Post. She frequently covers economics, public policy, immigration and politics, with a special emphasis on data-driven journalism. Before joining The Post, she wrote about economics and theater for the New York Times
She was lucky to escape Afghanistan. Two years later, she’s stuck in limbo.