As recently as last week, the US Immigration Service used six officers to process about 14,000 humanitarian requests for Afghans wishing to relocate to the United States following the Taliban takeover in August.
This is what the USCIS recently told congressional staff, Congressman Jim Langevin, a Rhode Island Democrat, said Thursday during a House Homeland Security Committee meeting.
“I want to say it again: 14,000 parole applications for humanitarian reasons with just six officers,” Langevin said. “This is completely unacceptable and I urge USCIS to address this shortcoming immediately.”
A spokesman for Langevin told VOA that the backlog of USCIS came in on October 12 during an agency briefing to Congress staff.
Humanitarian parole is a special permit issued to foreigners to enter the United States in an emergency. While this does not automatically lead to permanent residence, parolees can apply for legal status while in the United States.
In a typical year, USCIS receives fewer than 2,000 humanitarian parole requests from around the world, according to a USCIS spokesman who spoke in the background.
But since August, the agency has received a total of nearly 20,000 such requests from Afghan citizens outside the United States, the official said in a statement to Voice of America on Friday. This is up from 14,000 in mid-October.
Community activists said the vast majority of applications were made by Afghans on behalf of their relatives living at home who have no other option to move to the United States. Many more Afghans associated with the US military, the US government, and US non-governmental organizations have applied for special immigration visas or refugee status.
When asked about Langevin’s criticism of the humanitarian parole backlog, the official said the agency is actively providing additional staff to address the issue.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services have approached the agency with a request for volunteers to help process parole applications for humanitarian reasons and significant public interest, and the agency will have significantly more staff to do the job in the coming weeks. said the official.
Nevertheless, a stream of applications flooded the immigration office.
Afghan-American lawyer Vogai Mohmand said the number of requests for parole in Afghanistan on humanitarian grounds could reach 150,000 a year.
“Their systems are not designed to handle this volume,” Mohmand said during a recent webinar hosted by several human rights organizations. “Quite frankly, they don’t have enough staff to look at all of these apps.”
According to Sunil Varghese, policy director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, appointing more officials to handle humanitarian parole cases will not help anyone.
Varghese said that before parole can be admitted to the United States, they must have their fingerprints, identity cards and travel documents issued by the US Embassy.
But the US Embassy in Kabul closed in late August and moved to Doha, Qatar. As a result, once an Afghan applicant qualifies for parole, USCIS instructs him to travel to a third country for screening and biometrics.
With foreign visas difficult to obtain and regular commercial flights not yet resumed, travel to a third country for verification is not an option for most Afghans, attorneys said.
If they do go through this process, “The Department of State will issue a letter to the applicant to board a commercial carrier in the United States at its own expense,” the official explained.
Even in the best of circumstances, the difficulties many Afghans face when trying to get to the US consulate overseas have undesirable consequences. Take the case of Fatima Hashi. As the security situation deteriorated in July, the 61-year-old woman’s son, a permanent resident of the United States, applied for humanitarian parole on her behalf.
In her case, USCIS acted fairly quickly, approving her application within 20 days of August 24, according to her son, who asked not to be named.
But by then the Taliban had taken over the country. The embassy, having moved to the Kabul international airport, transferred her case to Turkey. By the time she reached Istanbul 30 days later, her parole permit had expired.
“It was not my mother’s fault that her parole had expired,” my son told Voice of America. “She paid three times the usual price to get [the] first flights [that] became available from Afghanistan. She tried all possible channels to leave early, but all land borders and airlines were closed. “
A month later, Hashi remains stuck in an Istanbul hotel, waiting for what her son describes as a long-overdue renewed re-parole.
“This is incredible and very disappointing,” he said of the six officers who handled 14,000 applications.
It costs $ 575 to apply for humanitarian parole, a sum that adds up to several thousand dollars for a family of six that some members of Congress want to waive. However, despite the high cost and uncertainty of their approval, many Afghan Americans continue to apply for their loved ones.
“First, they have no other options,” said Khashi’s son. “Secondly, they all still hope that USCIS will approve their case, given the situation in Afghanistan. Most of them do not realize how difficult it is to get a parole for humanitarian reasons. “
A USCIS spokesman did not respond to questions about whether the agency approved any requests for parole in Afghanistan and how long it would take for the agency to clear the backlog.