Written by: Mosal Hashimee
Abandoned, Afghans Desperately Wait for News of Pending Humanitarian Parole Applications Amidst Unprecedented Levels of Poverty and Hunger
Over three months ago, the world witnessed the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban for the second time in 25 years. As the U.S. expedited its evacuation of troops and personnel, Afghans desperately sought a way out, risking their lives to avoid living under Taliban rule again. During those first few weeks in mid-August, Afghans received an outpouring of support from the international community. Nations opened their borders to temporarily welcome refugees, while individuals turned out in droves to offer housing, donate clothes, and volunteer their time to ensure Afghans safe passage.
Unfortunately, immigration attorneys knew what was soon to come: news coverage would fade, and with it, fervor for the plight of Afghans. Such is the case with crises that gain traction through media spotlight, only to be abandoned when they are no longer hot topics. Indeed, the first month or so after the U.S.’s withdrawal was critical in terms of setting the stage for how Afghans can seek refuge for themselves and their families. For those who did not work as translators or in other capacities for the U.S. military, and therefore did not qualify for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV), Department of Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas issued a memo recommending humanitarian parole as a pathway to obtain entry into the United States. Advanced parole only allows for an individual to stay in the U.S. for a limited period (a year, for example); while here, the person must apply for another form of immigration relief such as asylum.
Still, for millions of Afghans, any option is better than the reality of remaining in their collapsed country at the mercy of a more technologically sophisticated, and more dangerous, Taliban. Those fortunate enough to have family members who could get in touch with attorneys here, and with the financial means to pay up to thousands of dollars in government filing fees, quickly filed applications for humanitarian parole. On Friday, the Associated Press (AP) reported that according to federal officials, out of more than 28,000 of these applications, only about 100 (0.3%) have been approved. Spokespeople for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services cited a lack of staff sufficient to process the surge of applications, among uncertainties such as whether and how individuals can interview at third countries now that there is no embassy in Afghanistan, for the delay.
Unable to accept their fate hanging in the balance, some Afghans took up offers from ex-marines conducting clandestine rescue operations and others who paid for chartered private flights to help them leave the country. Despite these efforts, millions of Afghans remain in excruciating limbo. Translators who assisted the U.S. government in its military efforts, deemed indispensable allies, are stranded, often missing a single document needed to complete their SIV applications. They are prime targets for retribution, along with their families. Girls are sold to men and continue to be barred from school in many provinces, with women – those who are not murdered for their activism – facing severe restrictions in working. Religious and ethnic minorities remain subjected to the Taliban’s genocidal violence and displacement. All of this is happening while the country’s assets remain frozen, plunging Afghan citizens into deeper economic despair with each passing day. Indeed, the UN has reported that almost 23 million Afghans – more than half of the country’s population – will face starvation this winter, forcing migration in what is forecasted to be a humanitarian disaster of devastating proportion.
We must resist the urge to become desensitized to this ongoing tragedy. In light of its own promises, the U.S. has a responsibility to make it easier for Afghans to exercise their human right to seek safety and a life free from violent persecution through waiving cost prohibitive government filing fees, hiring more agency staff to process applications, and lifting extensive documentary requirements. The U.S. should also coordinate with the global community to unfreeze the country’s assets. In the age of social media, there is ample evidence to disprove the Taliban’s attempts to rehabilitate its image and gain legitimacy; still, everyday Afghans should not suffer further for an outcome beyond their control.
As an Afghan American, I feel great sorrow at the current situation. Ours is a diaspora that longs to return to a peaceful homeland, a dream that increasingly feels like a fantasy. Yet our identity and culture – a culture based in an ethic of hope in the face of overwhelming adversity – remain strong. To those practitioners currently assisting Afghan clients: thank you. We need your assistance and expertise now more than ever.
This blog post is not intended to provide legal advice or substitute for the advice of legal counsel with respect to specific facts and situations. See disclaimer