Next Steps After Evacuation of 70,000 Afghans Must Include Access to Counsel, Pathway to Legal Permanent Residency
WASHINGTON — Since the fall of Kabul in mid-August, more than 70,000 Afghans have been evacuated to the United States, with thousands more expected to arrive in the coming weeks and months. Human Rights First and its project Veterans for American Ideals have played a leading role in advocating for the safe and swift evacuation of Afghan allies, human rights defenders and their families through the “Evacuate Our Allies” (EOA) coalition. On Thursday, Human Rights First President and CEO, Michael Breen, himself a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, testified before the House Committee of Homeland Security. In his testimony, he called for further support for Afghan allies as they arrive and at-risk people who remain behind in Afghanistan or in unstable situations in other countries after being forced to flee.
“Since August 31, thousands of humanitarian parole applications have been filed with United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), yet we have heard of less than a handful that have been adjudicated,” said Breen in his testimony. “Families have paid sizable filing fees only to have their applications sit at USCIS with no information on when or if they will be reunited with their loved ones.
“The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should waive all filing fees for humanitarian parole and other visas filed by at-risk Afghans, as our Coalition has recommended. The mission for DHS and the Biden administration is to identify immediate and viable solutions for Afghans who remain in danger in Afghanistan, as well as those who are in precarious situations in third countries.”
Human Rights First also established Project: Afghan Legal Assistance (PALA) to support recently arrived Afghan’s access to legal counsel. Through PALA and the EOA coalition, Human Rights First is spearheading a collaboration between U.S. legal organizations, law firms, resettlement agencies, and other stakeholders to provide legal representation to Afghan refugees. So far, the project has recruited hundreds of pro bono attorneys and interpreters to provide volunteer assistance to Afghan refugees and created legal resources to help volunteer lawyers to represent Afghans in immigration matters.
“More must be done to address the needs of arriving Afghans; an Afghan Adjustment Act is a good start,” said Breen. The act would allow Afghan parolees who are being evacuated from Afghanistan, even those who were advised to destroy their documents, to have an opportunity to seek legal permanent residence.
Breen also recommended that:
- The Biden administration release a plan to evacuate allies and at-risk Afghans seeking to leave Afghanistan and bring those located in host countries swiftly to safety in the United States.
- Congress create a categorical parole program for Afghan nationals that prioritizes and expedites the thousands of humanitarian parole requests filed by vulnerable Afghans abroad and waives all application fees associated with applications filed by at-risk Afghans.
- Congress enhanced access to legal counsel for Afghans being brought to safety by supporting funding for legal orientations and counsel to Afghans who must navigate our complex immigration systems.
“The United States has been a historic global leader in shielding refugees fleeing persecution. Republican and Democratic administrations recognized the moral and strategic importance of a strong commitment to providing refuge to the persecuted,” said Breen. “Now the United States must complete the mission of Operation Allies Welcome in a manner that honors our long tradition of bringing at-risk people to safety. The administration can set a strong example by upholding U.S. asylum laws and refugee treaties and restoring access to asylum at our own borders in accordance with those laws.”
A video of Breen’s testimony is available here.