Monday, January 30, 2023

Thousands of Afghans have applied for humanitarian parole in the United States

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As the Taliban prepared to take control of the Afghan capital, Los Angeles Attorney Vogai Mohmand watched in horror, puzzling over how to help her family and others escape.

She printed a document outlining possible immigration paths for Afghans wishing to come to the United States and posted it on social media. Hundreds of strangers responded, begging her for legal assistance.

Mohmand is now leading efforts to persuade the US government to expand the fast track process for legal entry into the United States, known as humanitarian parole, for thousands of Afghans, even as USCIS is struggling tries to process already submitted applications. received.

The ANAR project, the Afghan Advocacy and Resource Network, led by Mohmand and two other Afghan American women, builds on past models of similar US assistance to groups in Latin America and South Asia. To date, the group has helped approximately 9,000 Afghans apply for parole to enter the United States.

Under humanitarian parole, which is not a way to obtain citizenship, the federal government can overcome the bureaucracy of the typical visa application process to temporarily allow people to enter the United States in emergencies or for reasons of public interest. Parole is granted on an individual basis and is usually reserved for dire circumstances, such as giving someone a few days to visit a dying loved one.

It has also been used on numerous occasions over the past 70 years to quickly attract groups from countries in which the United States has participated, including people fleeing the Cuban Revolution, as well as Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Lao people after the end of the Vietnam War. Once here, these people can apply for work permits, temporary refugee funds, and medical assistance.

Unlike in the past, when the US government initiated such a broader effort, this time the lawyers are not waiting for an official program. They hope that the large number of applications will persuade the Biden administration to develop an official program for the rapid evacuation of Afghans who were unable to leave the country, as part of Operation Allies Welcome, led by the United States, which provides acceleration primarily for Afghans who have been associated with the United States.

But the group ran into a wall. According to lawyers, after the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan on August 30, none of their applications have been processed. Meanwhile, the overcrowded U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services approached the agency for volunteers to process applications from Afghanistan and began training additional staff to help increase the number of requests.

“USCIS is actively committing additional human resources to help with the current workload of applying for parole,” said spokeswoman Victoria Palmer. “In the coming weeks, the agency will have significantly more employees who will do this job.”

Nearly 70,000 Afghans were paroled in the United States as part of Operation Allies Welcome. Another 20,000 Afghans have separately applied for parole since August, Palmer said. Typically, the agency receives less than 2,000 inquiries per year from people of all nationalities.

Since July 1, USCIS has approved just 93 parole applications for Afghans. Some of them are still in their home country, while others have moved to third countries and await further processing, Palmer said.

Applicants must undergo a personal and biometric background check before they are approved for humanitarian parole. Since the embassy in Kabul is closed, applicants must travel to a third country to do so, Palmer said. This is on condition that the Taliban will allow them to leave.

The agency issues a notice to eligible applicants informing them of travel requirements and, if permitted, the Department of State issues a boarding letter to the applicant stating that they have permission to enter the United States. They can then take a commercial flight at their own expense.

Congress introduced humanitarian parole under the Immigration and Citizenship Act 1952. It was first used in 1956 to allow over 20,000 Hungarians to pass through after a failed revolution in the country. More recently, its use has spilled over into isolated cases and programs such as the Central American Juvenile Program, which began in 2014, have been established.

The founders of the ANAR project see it as the only immediate option for many who remain at risk under Taliban rule.

Many ANAR applicants are not eligible for special immigrant visas for Afghans or priority assignment under the Refugee Admissions Program because they did not work in the United States. Instead, they are Afghan government officials, teachers, journalists, widows and other women and girls. Some have family members of US citizens who can sponsor them permanently. Many could apply for asylum.

“Now we have a special moment,” Mohmand said. “We just don’t have extra years. In fact, the goal is to get people here safely. ”

Support for the group poured into September and they have now raised over $ 350,000 to pay the $ 575 USCIS fee per application. The funds come through the non-profit Pangea Legal Services in San Francisco.

Mohmand believes that the United States owes all Afghans, not just those who have worked directly with the federal government, a path to escape.

“The actions of the US government and army have created this problem. The US legitimized the Taliban with the Doha peace agreement and then literally handed over the government to them, ”she said, referring to a deal signed by the Trump administration and the Taliban last year. “The US has intervened everywhere, but I think there is a special debt to the people of Afghanistan due to decades of occupation.”

The group approach is risky. USCIS can keep the money and decide to reject applications. But Mohmand hopes the strategy – and payoffs – will force the federal government to act instead.

ANAR is not the only organization advocating parole for Afghans on humanitarian grounds. In a letter the group sent last month to President Biden, signed by other nonprofits and individual law firms, the lawyers said they expect a total of at least 30,000 applications to be filed with USCIS, bringing the agency more than $ 17 million in royalties.

Theresa Cardinal Brown, who oversees immigration policy at the Center for Bipartisan Policy and who worked for the Department of Homeland Security under the Obama administration, said the Biden administration was moving from crisis to crisis with immigration, some of which began long ago, before Afghanistan. pull out.

The processing time at USCIS is several months, even for basic requests such as replacing a green card. In recent years, the agency has twice tried to raise fees, but this has been stopped by lawsuits.

Brown said she understands the urgency of requests for parole for humanitarian reasons, but the agency needs time and resources to build capacity.

“Now everything is urgent. Do you give priority to people who are in Afghanistan, or people who are here at military bases, or people who are at foreign bases? ” she said. “Every time we have an extraordinary migration event – Cubans and Haitians, unaccompanied minors from Central America, Afghans – we suddenly have to pull resources from elsewhere and act like we have never done before. Why don’t we prepare for migration emergencies like natural disasters? ”

Mohmand worked with another Afghan-American legal colleague, Leila Ayub, from Virginia, to develop the original immigration reference document. Later, a former colleague from the University of California at Berkeley, Saamiya Hakik, offered her time. Hakik had experience in immigration and resettlement organizations and had just quit her job.

“It all happened so quickly,” Mohmand said. “And now it is literally a full-time Saami and Laila, and I work for that part-time through my job. It changed our lives. “

Since then, Hakik has filed more than 20 applications on behalf of family members, including a 25-year-old cousin who was a TV journalist for TOLO News, one of the largest news agencies in the country, and an activist promoting education for women.

“For the work he has done, which he was so proud of, he now regrets the risk it brings to his family,” she said. “The Taliban do not focus on an individual – they usually target an entire family.”

Nadia D., 49, from Fairfax, Virginia, helped 96 distant relatives in Afghanistan apply for humanitarian parole through the ANAR project. She asked The Times not to publish her last name for fear of punishment for her family members.

Her family includes former Afghan civil servants, teachers, engineers, nonprofit workers and journalists. According to her, no one can work and the children no longer go to school. Taliban fighters knock on her nephew’s door every night, asking where he is, she added.

Nadia said she was glad that thousands of Afghans who worked for the United States were evacuated. But she hopes the federal government will do more.

“Everyone has the right to happiness and the right to a safe life,” said Nadia through a translator in Dari. “I will pray that my family can have it too.”

Nation World News Desk
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