Since the U.S. evacuated Afghanistan last summer, 70,000 Afghans who were involved in the U.S. war effort or who were considered at risk of pursuit by the Taliban have been resettled. Due to the hasty and chaotic evacuation, not all Afghans who were eligible for resettlement in the United States were evacuated, leaving behind many who began filing for parole.
Since July 2021, USCIS has received 46,000 applications from Afghans hoping to come to the United States through parole. Due to the increase in Afghan parole applications, many remain unresolved and over 90% of the less than 5,000 fully adjudicated applications have been denied. As of June 2, only 297 Afghan parole applications have been approved by USCIS.
Asylum Seeker Mohamed: A Case for Attention
Mohammad is the brother of Zaker Hussain. Zaker Hussain served in wartime as a translator for the U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan, specifically in the U.S. Marine Corps. Mohammad, on the other hand, worked in the presidential palace as a painter for the then US-backed Afghan government.
Because of the hasty and chaotic evacuations, many Afghans who might be eligible for U.S. resettlement were not evacuated, including Mohammad, his wife, and his grandchildren. But Zaker Hussain did manage to be evacuated to the United States, where he currently lives and works in Virginia as a refugee caseworker.
Many Afghans who have been left behind have begun to apply for parole, which allows U.S. authorities to allow immigrants to enter without a visa for urgent humanitarian reasons.
Zaker Hussain applied for parole for his brother Mohammad, but unfortunately, the application was unsuccessful on the grounds that the evidence he submitted, ranging from Afghan government ID cards and passports to news articles detailing Taliban attacks on Hazaras and American translators, was not of a nature to support his eligibility. Hussain’s application on behalf of his brother was denied by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on December 29, 2021.
What are Zaker Hussain’s reasons for seeking parole for Mohammad?
Mohammad is at risk of injury from the Taliban because of his work in the Afghan presidential palace, his membership in the long-persecuted Hazara minority, and Hussein’s role as a combat interpreter for the U.S. Marines.
The former Afghan translator helped the Marines find and deactivate improvised explosive devices (IEDs) during wartime, which earned him resettlement and eventual citizenship in the United States, which he hopes will allow his brother to go through what is called humanitarian parole to enter the country.
Hussein explained in a signed affidavit that because of his own years in the U.S.-backed Afghan government and the assistance he provided to U.S. troops during their fight against the Taliban, his brother – and his wife and young children – are all in grave danger.
Mohammad’s moving statements after his parole application was denied
When the U.S. denied his parole application, Mohammad said he felt “like a dead but breathing person.” The affidavit included in his application states that the Taliban have access to his files and his former office at the presidential palace, where Mohammad worked as a painter and architect in the president’s office.
“We don’t feel safe,” he said through an interpreter. before adding, quote, “We don’t know what’s going to happen in an hour. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow.”
When does USCIS offer parole to Afghan refugees?
USCIS generally only grants parole when there is a need for protection. When USCIS finds that a beneficiary is at risk of targeted or individually serious harm in the beneficiary’s country or is likely to be immediately returned to or harmed in the country in which he or she lives. This is what the denial letter says about Mohammed’s parole application filed by his brother Zaker Hussein, who is legally living in the United States.
Why would there be a difference in the way USCIS treats cases in a similar situation?
Looking at the situation of Afghan refugees seeking asylum in the United States, one is tempted to believe that for the same situations, USCIS gives different treatments. The most obvious example is that of Ukrainians who are also seeking the same thing.
Since the 1950s, the United States has used parole in multiple crises to quickly resettle groups of refugees, including Hungarians fleeing Soviet repression, Cubans fleeing communism, and Vietnamese seeking refuge after the war.
Parole is widely used by the Biden administration, citing it to admit some asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, at-risk Central American children, Haitians and Cubans seeking to reunite with family in the U.S., Ukrainian refugees and the tens of thousands of Afghans he evacuated last year.
But the administration is relying on stricter eligibility rules to adjudicate parole applications from Afghans who were not evacuated by the U.S. last summer, prompting refugee advocates to raise allegations of disparate treatment and discrimination.
USCIS’ response to human rights organizations’ criticism of this seemingly discriminatory situation
In response to the criticism, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has indicated that parole does not replace the U.S. refugee program that Afghans seeking refuge should use to travel to the United States. However, those hoping to enter must be in a third country.
The Department of Homeland Security has announced that Afghans will certainly be eligible for parole, but under “certain limited circumstances. These include “serious and targeted harm” to immediate family members of U.S. citizens or residents, former embassy staff in Kabul, applicants for special immigrant visas, immediate family members of Afghans who were transferred to the United States last year, and others.
DHS added that one of the reasons most Afghan parole cases remain unadjudicated is that USCIS typically processes about 2,000 applications per year, rather than tens of thousands.
The Department of Homeland Security also noted that 70 percent of Afghan parole applicants are in Afghanistan, where they cannot receive required interviews due to the lack of a U.S. consulate in that country. Applicants deemed eligible for parole must travel to a third country to be approved, the Department of Homeland Security said : I quote, “This complicates the completion of some humanitarian parole applications that would otherwise have been granted,” the department told CBS News.
Is the situation for Ukrainian and Afghan refugees comparable?
Unlike most U.S. immigration programs that take months or years to process, Uniting for Ukraine cases are processed electronically in weeks or even days. In less than three months, 37,000 Ukrainians have obtained travel permits to the United States, and 11,000 of them have arrived, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, said, “It’s a shocking example of injustice to process one group’s claims with a much lower threshold of proof and not do so for another. He added : I quote, ” This is a process that is about saving lives and reuniting families – the fate of applicants should not depend on their nationality.”
A senior DHS official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the parole process said he understood why some advocates compared the treatment of Ukrainians and Afghans. But these groups have different characteristics and circumstances. He added: I quote “This was a U.S.-led evacuation, as opposed to the Ukraine where the nationals bought their own tickets and arranged their own logistics and travel.”
The official noted that the U.S. was still processing some Afghans to expedite the refugee process in Qatar. But only a few Afghans benefit from the process – flights from Afghanistan are rare. According to the Department of Homeland Security, 3,700 at-risk Afghans have arrived in the United States since March 1.
The Biden administration also argues that the Ukrainians are seeking temporary shelter, while the Afghans are seeking permanent resettlement.
Iraq war veteran Chris Purdy, who is currently director of Veterans for American Ideals, an arm of the refugee advocacy group Human Rights First, says the U.S. can and should allow Afghans the same process as Ukrainians. He said, quote, “Just because Ukrainians are fleeing conflict in Europe and Afghans are fleeing Central Asia, there is no excuse for a different system.”
Angelo Fernandez, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said the Biden administration is committed to helping at-risk Ukrainians and Afghans displaced by wars in their own countries.
Appeals from human rights organizations
Human rights groups or organizations are calling on states to:
- Ratify the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Additional Protocol;
- Take all necessary measures to ensure the safe departure of all persons targeted by the Taliban and other parts of Afghanistan;
- They call on states to immediately stop the forced return of Afghan refugees.
- Enable all Afghan asylum seekers to use a clear, transparent, and efficient asylum system to submit claims for international protection and seek resettlement; and
- Provide immediate practical support at all levels for people at particular risk, including human rights defenders, journalists, women leaders and activists, and LGBTQ+ people.
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