By Stacie Smith.
Since October, I have worked as a volunteer with Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) on humanitarian parole applications for Afghan men, women and children who aided the U.S. military or human rights efforts during our 20-year war there. Considering the hasty withdrawal and backlog of refugee applications, an appropriate transition time for at-risk individuals was impossible. Under these urgent circumstances, DHS Secretary Alejandro Majorkas authorized the use of humanitarian parole (HP) for Afghan evacuees, which has been used before after similar conflicts, and requires the same rigorous vetting and similar paperwork to Special Immigrant Visas (SIV).
HP grants temporary status to come to the United States, but does not guarantee a way to get here. These people must wait for their humanitarian parole application to process, then wait for safe evacuation to the United States. Once here, their status is temporary and their benefits pale in comparison to those who arrive under SIV, despite being under the same threat from the Taliban for being associated with American military and humanitarian operations.
Each person seeking HP has risked a great deal to assist the United States in Afghanistan, and it is our duty to assist them now. Z and S are the couple I am assisting through Integrated Refugee and Immigration Services. They came to the United States two years ago. Z was a legal advisor to the U.S. Department of Justice in Afghanistan. Because he was labeled a U.S. collaborator, his life was in danger, and he and his wife and children received Special Immigrant Visas. We are now working on humanitarian parole applications for others in the same situation who were unable to complete the lengthy SIV process before August 2021.
Z and S hear of the horrific threats and conditions their family is left in, including their cousin who was tortured in January. When I speak to them, I can hear their heartache, distress, and, ultimately, their guilt that they are here and have limited options to help those still in danger. They are doing all they can from the United States. Those left in Afghanistan are also suffering a humanitarian crisis as they endure food shortages and drought, inflation, teachers and essential workers not getting paid, inadequate medical care, all in addition to living under Taliban rule.
Texas has more than enough means, space, and heart for refugees. As we support them and give them the resources they need to establish a permanent home here, their contributions to our communities will quickly outpace our resettlement efforts. On average, refugees pay $21,000 more in taxes over their first 20 years of residency than the benefits they receive. Texas companies, such as Texas Medical Technologies, recognize the asset refugees can be in our economy suffering labor shortages, and have already stepped up to make partnerships to employ refugees.
Refugee services groups, local governments, churches, and concerned community members all over Texas and the nation have welcomed Afghans at the airport, provided groceries and a first familiar meal, set up homes, and established relationships. Refugees need help, but we also need refugees! They just need the timely work authorization and a pathway to legal permanent residency an Afghan Adjustment Act would provide, so they can quickly resettle and begin providing for their families, stimulating the economy, and adding to the rich fabric of our Texas communities.
An Afghan Adjustment Act would honor and protect many of the Afghans that assisted our military and advocated for human and civil rights. It would allow Afghans who enter the United States under humanitarian parole a defined and permanent legal status. Parolees would be accorded the same legal status as those in the U.S. Resettlement Program, rather than adding to the backlog of 432,341 asylum applications. Congress has passed previous adjustment acts with bipartisan support for individuals who fled Cuba, Vietnam, and Iraq after our involvement with war and conflicts there. Providing refuge for our allies has majority support with Americans, as well as 32 veteran organizations and 178 national, state, and local organization.
We must pass an Afghan Adjustment Act. It is necessary, it is compassionate, and there is legislative precedent for it. It’s the right thing to do. As we see violence and war push more people out of their homeland in Ukraine, our focus naturally shifts, but we must not forget those still seeking refuge and safety from Afghanistan. Let’s pass the Afghan Adjustment Act now to avoid prolonging and exacerbating the suffering of our Afghan allies who suffered, or are still suffering, under Taliban rule.
Author: Stacie Smith is an Immigration Specialist and Texas Chapter Coordinator, Mormon Women for Ethical Government.
Photo: An Afghan family walks toward a medical screening station while in-processing at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. (U.S. Army Photo by 1st Lt. James Mason).