No more half measures – Afghan refugees are on borrowed time
As Americans, it’s easy to transfer all our concern for the world’s refugees onto the good people of Ukraine. In this time of short attention spans and fast-moving global emergencies, it’s a natural impulse.
More than 5 million Ukrainians have crossed European borders to find safety since the Russian invasion. Thousands are seeking asylum in the United States after entering from Mexico. President Biden launched a “Uniting for Ukraine” sponsorship program. “Stand for Ukraine” is a rallying cry that rightfully resonates across our country.
And yet the U.S. also has unfinished business with the good people of Afghanistan. They are at risk of becoming a footnote in the book of America’s recent refugee relief efforts. A half measure carried out with compassion is still a half measure. That is why Congress must pass the Afghan Adjustment Act without further delay. Biden proposed they do it as part of a supplemental aid package for Ukraine; unfortunately, House negotiators removed it before approving the aid package on May 10.
It’s not enough that our military evacuated planes full of Afghans last summer after the U.S. allowed their country to fall to the Taliban regime. It’s not enough that more than 70,000 received a warm welcome from agencies like LCSNW, which has resettled more than 700 Afghans in six months.
Why isn’t it enough? Because tens of thousands of these newcomers have no clear legal pathway to permanent residence; they face the prospect of losing their jobs and safety net – while living in the shadow of deportation – as soon as two years from the date they arrived.
In short, our new Afghan neighbors are being deprived of a fair chance to secure a future for their families and realize the American dream. The rest of us? We could lose out on long-term benefits from their hard work and entrepreneurship, creativity and culture.
“In my experience, they are grateful human beings, deserving of protection and compassion,” says Alma Jean, director of LCSNW’s Immigration Counseling and Advocacy Program. “I know they will bless lives in the Pacific Northwest and United States through generations to come.”
Congress should fix this, and fix it soon. Passing the Afghan Adjustment Act would allow so-called “humanitarian parolees” to apply for permanent status after one year. Doing so would not be a radical move; in the last 70 years, Congress has granted adjustments to displaced people including Cubans, Southeast Asians and Iraqi Kurds.
It also would relieve pressure from our backlogged legal system for asylum seekers – pressure that’s rising with the Ukraine crisis and the scheduled lifting of pandemic-related restrictions at the Southern border.
Afghan refugees have won bipartisan support for their bravery serving alongside U.S. troops. It’s time to fulfill our responsibility to them and the promise of a true fresh start in America. Many Ukrainians will eventually need their status adjusted as well, but for Afghans, the clock started running down months earlier.
Compassionate half measures won’t cut it. Please urge your Congress members to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act now. Here’s a form you can use to do it.
If you are a member of the media and would like to speak with someone from LCS Northwest, please contact our Director of Communications, Matt Misterek, firstname.lastname@example.org, 253.678.9092.