Refugee advocates are pulling out the stops to pressure Congress and the White House to pass legislation granting permanent legal status to more than 70,000 war-ravaged Afghans evacuated to the U.S. in 2021.
Proponents of the Afghan Adjustment Act used Aug. 15, the two-year anniversary of the fall of Kabul, to wage a media blitz of expert statements, news releases and survey results to present moral and popular support for the measure reintroduced in Congress last month.
“Many of our Afghan allies here in the U.S. remain with only temporary protection. After serving alongside us as allies for two decades, they should not fear that they might be forced to return to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan,” said Jennie Murray, president of the National Immigration Forum.
The act would provide pathways to permanent residency for Afghan war refugees currently in the U.S. under humanitarian parole and who agree to undergo additional security vetting. While parole allows refugees to work while in the U.S., the program is temporary and forces individuals to seek protection in the nation’s backlogged asylum system as expiration dates and deportation loom.
In June, President Biden announced evacuees could apply for two-year parole extensions, an approach welcomed by advocates but also described as yet another temporary fix.
“Two years after withdrawal, the U.S. has yet to fulfill its promise to Afghan allies.”
“Two years after withdrawal, the U.S. has yet to fulfill its promise to Afghan allies, whether they be here in the U.S., waiting in third countries or in harm’s way in Afghanistan. Backlogs, barriers and burdens continue to impede access to lasting protection and long-overdue family reunification,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
“Perhaps nowhere are our nation’s shortcomings more evident than in Congress’ failure thus far to pass the bipartisan Afghan Adjustment Act,” she said of the measure introduced but not voted on during the previous Congress. “The allies of America’s longest war deserve more than to live separated from their loved ones in an unsustainable legal limbo. Elected officials must pass this bill to ensure that evacuees can remain permanently in the U.S. and that relocation of at-risk Afghans continues on a meaningful scale.”
That is a sentiment most Americans agree with, according to a survey released Aug. 14 by the National Immigration Forum.
The poll of 1,200 adults conducted Aug. 5-10 by the Bullfinch Group found approval for the Afghan Adjustment Act exceeds disapproval by 66% to 15%. Approval among self-identified conservatives registers a supermajority of 70% versus 17% opposed. The breakdown among evangelical Protestants is 70% in favor and 14% against the act.
“This polling confirms what World Relief staff have observed in communities throughout the country: The American people, who enthusiastically welcomed Afghans two years ago, are now eager to ensure they do not remain stuck in legal limbo,” said Matthew Soerens, vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief.
The survey results demonstrate the time is now to get behind the act, said Dan Vallone, director of More in Common US. “The data show Americans of all backgrounds support welcoming our Afghan partners and providing them a clear legal pathway. This is an important moment for Americans to come together and act.”
Afghan refugees deserve the right to call the U.S. home, said Francis Hoang, an Afghan war veteran and leader of the Council on National Security and Immigration.
“It has been two years since the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, and we still have not provided our allies who were evacuated a permanent pathway to remain in the U.S. and begin rebuilding their lives,” he said. “For years, Afghan allies put their lives and their families’ lives at risk to help the U.S. military in our efforts to defeat al Qaeda and the Taliban. By doing so they have earned the opportunity to stay in the country and obtain legal permanent resident status.”
“They have earned the opportunity to stay in the country and obtain legal permanent resident status.”
Failure to grant Afghans permanent status could backfire on U.S. foreign and military policy, he said. “By not acting swiftly to adhere to our end of the agreement, we are betraying our commitment and risking other potential allies from cooperating with U.S. forces in future conflicts, putting U.S. interests and national security at risk. With the increasing threat of nations who do not share our values, America cannot afford to find itself in this position.”
Hoang said the issue is a personal one for him: “Nearly 50 years ago, I was one of those rescued children after the fall of Saigon and know first-hand the importance of having certainty and stability in a new country far from your own. After all our Afghan allies have done for us, we must pass the Afghan Adjustment Act for them.”
Military groups, veterans’ groups, religious groups, civil rights groups and others have begged Congress to address the plight of Afghan refugees in the U.S., but those efforts have been blocked by a few Republican lawmakers.
One of those is Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa. Last December, he opposed the bill from his position as ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Grassley said the legislation doesn’t provide adequate protections to vet Afghans seeking entry to the U.S., although supporters of the bill say it addresses those concerns.
This session, one of the chief roadblocks to the act’s passage is Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas who has pitched an alternative bill that would rewrite other provisions of U.S. immigration law to his liking as a foe of immigration.
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Love ’em and leave ’em: America walks out on Afghanistan | Opinion by Erich Bridges