Afghan Adjustment Act – Congressional Action Needed

Afghan Adjustment Act

Thousands of Afghans were airlifted from the Kabul airport during the non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) conducted in August 2021. They were first flown to U.S. military bases in the Middle or Europe. After some initial processing the evacuees were flown to the United States and hosted on one of eight temporary camps on U.S. military installations.

Afghans Lack Legal Status. Some of these Afghans flown to the United States were Afghan-Americans (AMCITs), lawful permanent residents (green card holders), and Afghans with a valid visa. They had legal status for entry into the United States. However, the vast majority of the Afghans that got on the U.S. military transport planes and eventually arrived in the United States were not American citizens, lawful permanent residents, or holders of an Afghan passport and valid visa. Although some Afghans have pending Special Immigrant Visa or immigrant visas, the majority of Afghans who boarded those planes really had no connection with the U.S. military or government in Afghanistan – and that makes applying for legal status in the United States a long and difficult process.

Humanitarian Parole – A Temporary Fix. The U.S. government used its discretionary powers to grant Humanitarian Parole to the thousands of Afghans who were received on these military bases in the United States. However, Humanitarian Parole is a temporary fix good for only one or two years. The Afghans must now pursue a more permanent status – most likely requesting asylum, applying for Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) status, or applying for some other type of immigrant status.

Problematic Pathway to Special Immigrant Visa (SIV). The Special Immigrant Visa Program requires Afghans to prove that they worked with U.S. military or U.S. government organizations in Afghanistan. Many Afghans who were associated with the United States in Afghanistan destroyed their documents that could prove their employment with a U.S.-affiliated organization. They did this out of fear that the documents would be discovered by the Taliban. Others find that the U.S. organizations they worked for in Afghanistan are no longer in business, have not kept proper employment records, or are reluctant to provide the proper documentation. Many Afghans with a pending SIV case are facing years of bureaucracy before their cases are resolved. The Afghan Adjustment Act would provide relief in this case.

Asylum Process. Some pathways to immigration status are difficult or impossible to navigate or complete due to the necessity for Afghans to prove they were fleeing violence and persecution. Requesting asylum is a long process with no guarantee of attaining legal status.

Limitations of Humanitarian Parole. All of these pathways to immigration are bureaucratic in nature and involve years of paperwork and interviews. This makes it difficult to complete the process in the short one or two year provided by Humanitarian Parole. Immigration lawyers are currently overwhelmed with the number of Afghans that they are representing or will represent for asylum.

Security Screening of Afghan Evacuees. There are concerns that many of the Afghans had no real ties to the U.S. government or military in Afghanistan. Some critics suggest that there are many undesirable people among the thousands flown to the United States. To the U.S. governments credit, attempts were made to conduct security screening of all the Afghans who have arrived in the United States. Initial attempts of security screening were done at the Kabul airport during the later stages of the August 2021 airlift – but for the most, these efforts at the Kabul airport were inadequate. Most Afghan evacuees were subjected to screening at the ‘lily pads’ on the U.S. military installations in the Middle East and Europe by personnel of the Department of Homeland Security. The Afghan evacuees were then screened once again upon arrival at one of the eight U.S. military bases in the United States. In addition, more security screening is required under the provisions of the Afghan Adjustment Act.

History of ‘Adjustment Acts’. There is historical precedence for the Afghan Adjustment Act. In the past, similar adjustment acts have been passed for Cubans, Iraqi Kurds, and Southeast Asians. Examples include the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 and Indochinese Parole Adjustment Act. Many of the past conflicts that the United States has engaged in has seen some type of legislation that affords relief to refugees of those conflicts. It is time to do the same for the Afghans evacuees now here in the United States.

Time for Congress to Act. The passage of this act would bring much-needed stability and security to Afghan evacuees. It would provide them with a path to permanent legal status and ease bottlenecks in the asylum, Special Immigrant Visa, and other immigrant processes. The act would prevent Afghans from being deported or losing their jobs while their immigration petitions are working their way through the bureaucratic system.

Passing the Afghan Adjustment Act is the right thing to do. The members of Congress need to support and pass legislation that allows Afghans to have an opportunity to become lawful permanent residents (LPRs). This legislation would give them the same legal status had they been admitted as refugees.

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References:

“Factsheet: Afghan Adjustment Act”, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), December 2021.

“Congress must pass the Afghan Adjustment Act to provide lasting safety for Afghan evacuees!”, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS).

“Why Congress Must Pass an Afghan Adjustment Act”, by Michael Neal, Attorney, International Rescue Committee, Newsweek, November 1, 2021.