Thousands of Afghans face a narrow road to enter the US

A rarely used U.S. immigration program has been hit with as much strain as tens of thousands of Afghan refugees turned to it as their only hope of finding a safe passage to the United States

Now they have collided with the US immigration system. Of the more than 40,000 Afghans who have applied to enter the US on temporary humanitarian grounds, only 160 have been approved so far. Most of the rest are likely to be denied by the standards that US immigration officials are applying.


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The program, known as humanitarian parole, provides a pathway for foreigners to come to the US without a visa. It has traditionally been used sparingly, given to approximately 500 people a year in emergency situations, including receiving specialized medical treatment available only in the United States.

But in the months following the airlift, refugee advocates, members of Congress and even some US government officials urged Afghans to try the small program. Thousands of Afghans — from former military officials to employees of Western nonprofits, women’s rights activists and religious minorities — have submitted applications.

It’s an attractive option for the likes of Fahima, a single mother of three who fled the city of Herat in western Afghanistan when the Taliban took over. Fahima is in danger for many reasons. She is Shia, a religious minority. She is divorced – a potential target to become the bride of a Taliban fighter. And, to support her children, she did data entry work for the World Bank.

As an employee of an international organization, Fahima, who requested to use only his name, is not eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa, designed for working Afghans with the US government in a two-decade war. She has no children, parents or siblings who are US citizens who can sponsor her for a green card. And while she is likely eligible to become a refugee, that process takes years in the best of circumstances – time which she has not.

After several failed attempts to get into Kabul airport in August, Fahima and her children fled to Pakistan, where they now live illegally in a small rented room on the outskirts of Islamabad.

In August, her cousin in the US and some former World Bank colleagues amassed $2,300 to cover the costs of four humanitarian amnesty applications. Earlier this month, those applications were rejected.

To qualify, Fahima’s denial notice said, she needed to demonstrate — with documentation — that she faced immediate and targeted danger, a standard she is less likely to be able to do. apparently after leaving Afghanistan.

‘We really didn’t know what to do. My only hope is to live and help my children get to a better place. ‘

– Fahima, an Afghan mother of three teenagers currently living illegally in Pakistan

Representative Peter Meijer (R., Mich.) said there was “a lot of confusion” about the route that Afghans should try to get to the US. “We know that there are other programs that can take years. And there are always some expressways that get teased,” he said.

Government officials say they have been consistent in applying the humanitarian program and that members of Congress and supporters were wrong to direct so many Afghans to a program that has always been difficult to qualify for, bringing give them false hope. They say it doesn’t make sense to prioritize bringing refugees to the country through a program that allows them to stay only temporarily and does not lead to a green card. They say they are trying to stand up for other avenues to take in more refugees, but that effort will take time.

The administration has also set priorities for resettlement, with immediate family members of US citizens and applicants for the Special Immigrant Visa program in the top positions.

“The authorities used humanitarian parole as the main means of immigration during and immediately after [evacuation] A senior administration official said in a statement to move Afghans quickly in urgent circumstances. “Now, we are prioritizing SIV and [refugee] treated as primary immigration pathways because they provide permanent immigration status upon entry. ”

The denials, however, are raising tough questions about how the US should handle the influx of refugees leaving Afghanistan has created — and what they should do if the US cannot or won’t take them all in. .

Doris Meissner, the top immigration official in the Clinton administration, who now works for the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington nonpartisan think tank.

“The parole is completely inadequate – everyone knows that,” she added. “There’s just no other option.”

Refugee advocates say the Biden administration’s approach after the evacuation is too narrow, creating a contrast to the way they have approached Refugees already on American soil. Of the 76,000 displaced Afghans brought to the US to date, nearly all have been admitted on humanitarian parole.

“We had hoped to see a similarly generous support of this situation,” said Jill Marie Bussey, public policy director for the Lutheran Refugee and Immigration Service. “Why did we voluntarily close the door just because the evacuation was over?”

Most immigration law experts agree the president has broad scope for allowing anyone to use his powers to enter the country. The Biden administration has used it in a number of other cases, including bringing about 13,000 migrants who were included in the Remain in Mexico program under Trump to the US and allowing parents to be separated from their children. at the border and deported back. Earlier this year, they set up a program designed to bring children from Central America with families to the US for legal use on humanitarian parole.

After the fall of Saigon in 1975, the United States accepted some 900,000 Vietnamese refugees over the next two decades under the so-called Orderly Departure Program.

US officials have continued to evacuate some Afghans from the country and they are now considering setting up an expedited refugee processing center in Qatar to process Afghan refugees, according to three people familiar with the matter. with this problem. But that program will likely only serve Afghans who qualify for a Special Immigrant Visa or those with immediate family members in the US.

Such a program would likely not be of much help to Afghans who have yet to find a way out, or others stuck in countries that don’t want to take them in for long.

With the future in the air, Fahima tries to focus on the affairs of everyday life. She has also applied for asylum in Canada but has not heard back. Meanwhile, she went to the store every day to buy bread and dates, the only food she could buy with her dwindling savings. Bored teenagers take turns playing games on her phone or flying kites on the rooftops of their buildings.

With each exit, Fahima is at risk of being discovered by Pakistani authorities and deported to Afghanistan. She said her ex-husband threatened to sell their 18-year-old daughter to a Taliban fighter if she returned.

“We really didn’t know what to do,” Fahima said. “My only hope is to live and help my children get to a better place.”

The Taliban have been trying to build an image of safety and normalcy since taking power back. But as WSJ Sune Rasmussen reports from Kabul, harsh, violent punishments and suppression of basic freedoms are becoming a reality. Photo: Bulent Kilic / AFP / Getty Images (Video from 10/6/21)

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