Kyra Haddad is a rising senior at Brown University studying International and Public Affairs with a focus on development and pursuing a certificate in Entrepreneurship. Kyra was the 2022 Policy and Communications Summer Intern at IRAP.
A year after the withdrawal of the last U.S. troops from Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of Afghans are still in limbo, living in uncertainty and fear. In August 2021, the last U.S. troops left Afghanistan following the Biden administration’s orders earlier that year. The withdrawal of U.S. forces led to the fall of the capital, Kabul, to the Taliban. The withdrawal was poorly planned. For months, the administration failed to act on the repeated urgings of humanitarian, Afghan-American, and veterans organizations to begin large-scale evacuations of vulnerable Afghans. And President Biden promised, in a globally televised address, that any U.S.-affiliated Afghan would have a home in the United States. Although an estimated 83,000 Afghans were evacuated to the United States, about 76,000 of them currently do not have access to a pathway to permanent legal status, forcing them under a cloud of legal uncertainty as they begin their lives in communities around the United States.
Some evacuated Afghans already had approved Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) – a pathway to safety intended for at-risk Afghans who worked alongside U.S. forces. Afghans who did not work with the U.S. mission, or were unable to successfully navigate the error-prone and backlogged SIV process, however, entered the United States as parolees on urgent humanitarian grounds due to the rushed and chaotic nature of the evacuation. Unlike those who entered the United States with SIVs, Afghans who were evacuated from Afghanistan and entered the United States on humanitarian parole do not have a permanent pathway to citizenship. Parole only provides temporary protection. To remain in the United States for more than one or two years, Afghan parolees currently only have a few options. Generally, they could apply for asylum, apply for SIVS if they are eligible, or return to Afghanistan. Yet both the asylum and SIV programs have thousands of people currently waiting in backlogs, meaning years-long delays for new applicants.
The Afghan Adjustment Act is the solution to this problem: it would allow Afghan parolees to adjust their status and access a pathway to citizenship. Displaced Afghans have already been forced to leave so much behind – their loved ones, their careers, and all of the familiar comforts of home. The threat of being uprooted from their new homes should not loom over parolees simply because of the U.S. government’s haste.
Adjustment acts are not novel. In the past, Congress has passed adjustment acts for groups at risk in humanitarian crises. In the wake of the Cuban Revolution and the Vietnam War, for example, the United States passed adjustment acts that allowed displaced people from Cuba, and from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos to adjust to permanent status in the United States. The Afghan Adjustment Act is necessary because while most Afghans parolees meet the technical definition of a refugee, due to the nature of the evacuation they were only able to enter the United States as parolees rather than through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). Had they been given the opportunity to enter as refugees, they would have been eligible for Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status and, eventually, citizenship. This Adjustment Act would give parolees access to LPR status one year after entering the United States and eligibility for citizenship after that. Since returning to Afghanistan is not a viable option, and asylum and SIV processing would leave Afghan parolees in legal limbo indefinitely, the Afghan Adjustment Act is vital for allowing displaced Afghans the certainty and peace of mind that they can build their new lives and homes in the United States.
On this first anniversary of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, there is still so much that the United States must do to make good on its promises to displaced Afghans – whether they are left behind in Afghanistan, awaiting next steps in places like Pakistan and Qatar, or living in legal limbo in the United States. One of the very concrete, precedented steps the U.S. government can take is to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act. That’s why IRAP is part of the chorus of voices urging Congress to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act, and fulfill the promise the United States government made to displaced Afghans.