Secular and faith-based organizations are pressing Congress to enact the newly introduced Afghan Adjustment Act, which would provide permanent legal residency to Afghan refugees a year after Afghanistan fell to the Taliban.
Introduced with bipartisan support earlier this month in the U.S. House and Senate, the act would clear the way for Afghans to work, own property and receive public assistance, all of which are denied to them under the current humanitarian parole status.
The bill still faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where Republicans have blocked it once before, citing security concerns about the Afghan refugees.
The latest legislative development stoked widespread support among faith-based, veteran and immigration advocacy organizations who said the act is long overdue for a group of refugees and allies who narrowly escaped the Taliban’s Aug. 15, 2021, takeover.
“Most risked their lives to assist U.S. military and diplomatic personnel in efforts to defeat al Qaeda and the Taliban,” said Rick “Ozzie” Nelson, an Afghan war veteran and leader of the Council on National Security and Immigration. “In addition to many proving their commitment on the battlefield, all have undergone a diligent vetting process, including biometric and biographic checks, prior to arrival in the United States. Arguably, no cohort of parolees has risked so much and been vetted so rigorously.”
“No cohort of parolees has risked so much and been vetted so rigorously.”
The refugees’ current situation is precariously time-limited, Nelson added. “Most Afghan evacuees came to the U.S. through the humanitarian parole program and are already halfway through their two-year grant of parole. … Failing to address the uncertainty these allies and evacuees face not only betrays our commitments but also could disincentivize other potential allies from cooperating with U.S. forces in future conflicts, counter to U.S. interests and national security.”
In a recent letter to Congress, the Evangelical Immigration Table recalled the frenzied chaos that accompanied most Afghan refugees’ escape from their country leading up to the ultimate Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
“In the weeks that followed, tens of thousands of Afghans came to the United States after being processed and vetted in third-country locations. The American people — including many evangelical Christians, responding in ways rooted in their biblical faith — have stepped up in remarkable, sacrificial ways to welcome these newcomers, many of whom faced particular threats because of their association with the United States,” according to signatories that include the National Association of Evangelicals, National Latino Evangelical Coalition, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and World Relief.
“Now, we need Congress to act quickly to do your part, passing legislation to allow Afghans paroled into the U.S. to apply for permanent legal status, treating them just as those formally admitted as refugees are treated under U.S. law,” the letter said. “We also urge you to do everything possible to ensure that the U.S. continues to welcome Afghans who are facing or have fled persecution from the Taliban, including urging the administration to consider further requests for humanitarian parole and to invest in a more robust, nimble refugee resettle process.”
The Interfaith Immigration Coalition, whose members include the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, United Sikhs and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued a statement calling on Congress and the White House to act swiftly and decisively.
“As the Interfaith Immigration Coalition celebrates this much-needed legislation and recognizes the one-year anniversary of the fall of Kabul on August 15, they remember the many vulnerable children, women and men that remain in Afghanistan, subject to ongoing persecution and violence,” the letter said. “As people of faith, the IIC is concerned with neighbors near and far, those fortunate enough to be evacuated and those left behind.”
Passage of the legislation is a moral imperative, said coalition member Meredith Owen, director of policy and advocacy at Church World Service.
“The Afghan Adjustment Act is a real solution to a real problem faced by many of our neighbors and allies.”
“The Afghan Adjustment Act is a real solution to a real problem faced by many of our neighbors and allies. Relocated Afghans deserve a future that is not in question, one that includes raising their children in safety, free from the threat of the Taliban. The fact that the bill is supported by both Republicans and Democrats demonstrates that it is a necessary, and moral, extension of America’s spirit of welcome.”
Susannah Cunningham, advocacy manager for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, described the Afghan Adjustment Act as a lifeline for those who escaped peril in Afghanistan.
“A year after Afghans lost so much, including their country, they see a light of promise with this bipartisan bill. This legislation represents a future in which America is not just their safe harbor, but their home,” Cunningham said in a statement released by LIRS. “And veterans show us yet again that they will not have their story written for them, or a promise they made to an ally or a loved one broken. The introduction of this Democrat and Republican-sponsored bill brings the U.S. a step closer to keeping their own promises to allies and to veterans alike.”
The Lutheran agency’s release included a comment from Lawrence Montreiul, national legislative director for the American Legion. “On behalf of our 1.8 million members, we are proud to support this bill to assist our Afghan allies and friends. It will ensure we keep our promises as a country. We have a moral obligation to save our Afghan allies and their countrymen. We hope to see Congress move quickly to pass this important legislation.”
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