Nearly 37,000 people evacuated from Afghanistan as part of Operation Allies Rescue could qualify for permanent status through the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, CBS News reports. But a similar number lack a pathway, and could become vulnerable should their humanitarian parole protections end in two years with no other relief.
"We've been urging Congress to swiftly pass the Afghan Adjustment Act,” Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) President Krish O'Mara Vignarajah told CBS News, “and the tens of thousands of family members for whom this is the only path to more legal certainty only underscore the urgent need for it.”
The Biden administration evacuated over 76,000 people as part of Operation Allies Rescue. The vast majority are already settled in communities throughout the U.S. with the aid of nearly 300 resettlement affiliates, the State Department said last week. As previously noted, most were admitted through the humanitarian parole process, which allowed them to more quickly evacuate Afghanistan. But while tens of thousands are eligible for SIV, more than 36,400 people are not.
“These Afghan evacuees will remain in legal limbo unless Congress legalizes them or they apply for, and obtain, an immigration benefit like asylum,” CBS News continued. But prospective applicants could also face significant obstacles there.
“The U.S. asylum program, however, is plagued by a backlog of 412,000 applications. Some could also lose their cases, placing them in deportation proceedings.” Reports have shown how some asylum-seekers lose their cases simply because of where they live. ”Houston judges are denying up to 100% of asylum cases in immigration courts,” Houston Chronicle reported last month. Syracuse University researcher Austin Kocher plainly stated to the outlet that “once you're in Houston, you're kind of done.” Meanwhile, more than 4,400 Afghan refugees could ultimately be resettled to Texas.
“A potential Afghan Adjustment Act has received overwhelming support from organizations including Amnesty International, Veterans for American Ideals, and International Refugee Assistance Project,” Alexandra Martinez wrote for Prism Reports last month. She wrote that the recommended bill would allow Afghan refugees who entered after July 1 to apply to adjust their status. “Advocates of the potential policy hope to receive bipartisan support from the policy in Congress.” Those advocates include O'Mara Vignarajah, who is urging messages to members of Congress:
“The Biden administration inherited a very broken, under-resourced, overburdened and over-complicated program, and humanitarian parole was the easy way out,” HIAS CEO Mark Hetfield told Newsweek. “But then it creates all of these new problems that the refugee program automatically resolves, like family reunification, and access to benefits and access to permanent residence and citizenship.”
The president signed into law legislation this past summer that increased the visa cap by 8,000, but far more expansive action is clearly needed. How much help will Republicans be in a larger effort? While the House overwhelmingly passed a stand-alone bill increasing the visa cap in July, all 16 votes against the legislation were by Republicans. Then in October, every single Senate Republican joined Tom Cotton in voting to cut off aid to Afghan refugees. “So … Republicans spent weeks spraying vitriol about how every single Afghan who ever assisted the U.S. simply had to be saved,” Daily Kos’ Mark Sumner wrote at the time. “But once they were out, they refused to help them with housing, food, or medical care.”
The Biden administration has also been steadily working to reunite Afghan children who were unintentionally separated from their families amid the evacuations. Roughly 1,300 Afghan children as of November have been placed with a sponsor relative after arriving to the U.S. without a parent. The Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement still had custody of 266 children as of November because they have no family here.
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