It’s been over a year since U.S. forces abruptly left Afghanistan, leaving the Taliban in control of the country and forcing tens of thousands of Afghans to evacuate for their safety. Since the takeover in Aug. 2021, over 82,000 Afghan refugees have arrived in the U.S., seeking a pathway to citizenship and stability. While all Afghan refugees have been granted humanitarian parole for two years—a temporary status that authorizes refugees to remain in the country for a temporary period of time—the parole does not provide a pathway to permanent lawful status. Afghan refugees and activists have been calling for an Afghan Adjustment Act for over a year, but Republican lawmakers have gutted every attempt to pass the policy over what they say are security concerns. With only one year left before their parolee status expires, Afghan refugees say it is more important than ever to ensure this legislation gets passed.
“An Afghan Adjustment Act would be a clear and quicker pathway to get our green card, and it will help a lot of Afghans directly,” said Zahra Ahmadi, who arrived from Afghanistan in Sept. 2021 and works as an employment specialist for the International Institute of New England. “If it’s not passed, I think it will make it very complicated and very difficult for Afghans because they would have to go through an expensive and very complicated process to get citizenship.”
If the Afghan Adjustment Act does not get passed, at least 36,000 refugees will be forced to enter the already backlogged asylum processing system, where there are currently 470,000 pending cases. The process can take years before a determination is made, which is economically burdensome for refugees who cannot afford an immigration attorney. In the interim, though refugees have been granted temporary work authorization, many remain with legal uncertainty hanging over their heads and a fear of returning to their homeland.
“Just by the nature of how they left Afghanistan and their connections to the US, they very obviously have a credible fear of being returned to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan,” said Adam Bates, policy counsel for the International Refugee Assistance Project. “They overwhelmingly qualify for asylum, but that doesn’t benefit the 400,000 people who are already in the asylum backlog, and it doesn’t benefit the government resources and the tax money that’s spent on this and it obviously wouldn’t benefit the Afghans themselves to have to go through this superfluous asylum process just because the U.S. immigration system wasn’t prepared for their arrival.”
For Afghans still in Afghanistan, the concern is even greater. Since the initial evacuation ended, the U.S. has slowed the processing time of parole requests from Afghans overseas since there is no one to process those applications within the country. According to The New York Times, most humanitarian parole applications for Afghans abroad have gone unconsidered or denied. After the initial evacuation, only 369 had been approved through July.
As of Oct. 1, the Biden administration has discontinued the use of the humanitarian parole program to quickly admit Afghan refugees into the U.S. Barring a few exceptions, those seeking asylum will have to return to enduring the lengthy visa or refugees process.
The Afghan Adjustment Act, which was officially introduced in the Senate in Aug. 2022, received bipartisan support, but some conservative senators say the abrupt evacuation did not allow time to check for potential ties to terrorism or other criminal behavior. In response, legislators would include an added layer of security to the Afghan Adjustment Act, with checks and provisions to appease concerns.
“I don’t think those concerns make sense,” said Bates. “I think there’s very little evidence that this community poses any unique threat. I don’t think there’s a basis for that aside from general hostility to Afghan refugees in general.”
The White House initially included the Afghan Adjustment Act in its request for the spending bill, but it was negotiated out before the bill passed on Sept. 30. Now, the goal is to include the Act in another spending resolution or the yearly National Defense Authorization Act, both of which must pass by mid-December.
“There’s a real sense of urgency that this has to get done so folks can apply for adjustment before their parole expires,” said Bates. “Congress just needs to have a sense of urgency about this and do the right thing. This is not the group of people to play politics with, they’ve been through a lot, and it’s ridiculous to have these folks be caught in the middle of this partisan sniping between the parties. So Congress and the administration just need to do the right thing and provide a pathway to permanent status for these folks.”