Religious, human rights and veterans’ groups are stepping up pressure on Congress to provide a pathway to legal, permanent status for tens of thousands of Afghan refugees evacuated to the U.S. last year.
Most of those who escaped the fall of Afghanistan in August were sequestered on U.S. military bases under humanitarian parole status, a short-term designation that provides no access to the government services and resettlement programs other refugees normally enjoy.
As a result, more than 50,000 Afghan evacuees since have been resettled in communities across the country at the mercy of the backlogged asylum system, which offers no guarantee of permanent legal status.
“This leaves them in legal limbo and if an individual is denied asylum, then they are subject to deportation,” said Jenny Yang, senior vice president of advocacy and policy for World Relief, a global Christian humanitarian organization and one of nine refugee-resettlement agencies in the U.S.
World Relief and numerous other organizations recently increased the pace of lobbying and public relations campaigns designed to convince Congress to introduce and pass the Afghan Adjustment Act to make the refugees eligible for benefits and permanent legal residency.
“Our concern is that Congress and the (Biden) administration finish the job” started by those who evacuated Afghan allies to the U.S., Yang said. “They need to muster the political will to get it done.”
That was a message echoed late last week by the Evangelical Immigration Table, which sent a letter signed by 900 Christian leaders to members of Congress pleading for permanent legal status for Afghan refugees.
“Without such changes to law, the majority of Afghans whom our government is resettling using parole authority could end up with a perpetual ‘temporary’ status that must be indefinitely renewed, at significant cost, without the opportunity to apply for permanent status that would affirm that they fully belong in this country,” the letter declared.
The resulting state of limbo for Afghans would mirror that of the so-called Dreamers, immigrants brought into the nation illegally as children and living in constant dread of being deported if the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, is revoked.
The letter concluded by imploring legislators also to grant Lawful Permanent Residence to DACA recipients as well as to the Afghan allies in the country under parole status.
“It is both in these immigrant neighbors’ interest and in the interest of our society as a whole for our nation to formally affirm what we, as Christians, are eager to convey to these neighbors: that they are welcome here, that they belong and that the United States is now their home, just as it is ours.”
Jesse Rincones, executive director of the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas, added a patriotic emphasis in supporting the Afghan Adjustment Act.
“Thousands of Afghans risked their lives to serve our country. It would be a travesty to leave them in a perpetual state of insecurity with ‘temporary’ status. A path to permanent status is the just response to their sacrifice,” he said in comments accompanying the legislative appeal.
Human Rights First reported that a coalition of military veterans and Afghan allies have taken up the cause of ensuring refugees find a haven in the U.S.
“Today, I call on Republicans and Democrats to address the plight of our Afghan allies with the seriousness it demands. If you’ve ever said that you stand with the troops, then you must stand with us on this,” said Shawn VanDiver, a Navy veteran and founder of #AfghanEvac. “There is no issue that unites veterans across this country quite like standing by those who stood by us, and we expect our representatives to follow suit, ensuring we honor the commitments we’ve made.”
The best way Congress can show its support for military personnel is to support the Afghan Adjustment Act, said Matt Zeller of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
“Veterans have suffered a profound moral injury,” he said. “We best heal from it by helping the Afghans who now find themselves as our newest neighbors.”
The promise the U.S. made to protect the safety of its Afghan allies must be kept, said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
“It is incumbent upon Congress to provide long-term stability to the tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees lacking a direct pathway to permanent residency. Anything less would represent a mission unfinished and a promise unfulfilled.”
Long after the news cycle fades, Afghan refugees will still need our care | Opinion by Samira Izadi Page