Politics A year after fall of Kabul, Afghan evacuees face uncertainty in U.S.
Afghan rights leader heartbroken after year of Taliban rule
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A year after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, prominent Afghan rights activist Sima Samar is still heartbroken over what happened to her country. Samar, a former minister of women’s affairs and the first chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, left Kabul in July 2021 for the United States on her first trip after the COVID-19 pandemic, never expecting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to flee the country and the Taliban to take power for the second time soon after on Aug. 15.
Tens of thousands of Afghans have made new homes in the U.S. in the year since the fall of Kabul, after a harrowing evacuation from the Middle East and a months-long resettlement process.
But Congress hasn’t acted on legislative proposals to provide permanent relief for roughly 76,000 of those Afghans, who are unable to fully plan their next steps in America because they could face deportation if their temporary protections lapse.
Column: Kabul's fall was a debacle, but long-term impact hasn't been as catastrophic as feared
A year later, U.S. influence in the world has not suffered tangibly from the messy end of the Afghan war.It was Biden’s worst foreign policy failure, and prompted warnings that more catastrophes would follow: not only the tragedy of Taliban rule over 38 million Afghans, but a resurgence of international terrorism and a collapse of U.S. influence around the world.
Many are eligible for asylum status, or for special immigrant visas provided to those who helped the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan. But both those processes are beset by lengthy backlogs that leave Afghan evacuees in legal limbo.
Last week, a bipartisan group of six senators introduced a new version of legislation to allow Afghan evacuees to adjust their status to lawful permanent residency. The proposal, known as the Afghan Adjustment Act, has been a focus of immigrant and veteran advocacy for months.
However, the bill faces an upward climb in the Senate, which has rejected a similar proposal before. The window is rapidly closing to pass substantive legislation before the close of this Congress at the end of the year.
House GOP report accuses Biden of knowingly misleading public about Afghanistan exit
President Joe Biden has been accused in a report by House Republicans of knowingly misleading the country about the justification for the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in his April 2021 speech. The speech set the stage for a chaotic evacuation and a deadly Taliban takeover in August 2021. The damning, 100-page report claims Biden's speech was littered with claims disconnected from the reality on the ground — which House Republicans say had cascading effects leading to disaster.
In the meantime, advocates for Afghans who assisted the U.S. mission in Afghanistan in a variety of roles — and face risk under Taliban rule — worry that a future president’s actions could leave them vulnerable to deportation.
“It just sends a terrible message to our new Afghan allies — essentially saying, ‘Don’t get comfortable here, because this may not be home in the long term,’” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a resettlement group.
Even before Kabul fell to the Taliban on Aug. 15, 2021, nearly 20,000 special immigrant visa applicants were stuck in a labyrinthine application process that was averaging more than two years. A law requires that the application process take less than nine months.
The rapid collapse of the Afghan government prompted thousands of people to gather at the Kabul airport, fighting dense crowds to board an evacuation flight. In the subsequent days, the U.S. government evacuated more than 84,000 people.
How life has changed for Afghans since the Taliban takeover
On August 15, 2021, the Taliban overthrew Ashraf Ghani's government and seized power in Afghanistan. One year later, the country is facing multiple challenges that demand immediate global attention.The Taliban took the world by surprise when they captured Kabul on August 15 last year experiencing little or no resistance from former President Ashraf Ghani's forces. The Islamic fundamentalist group finally managed to return to power after the US overthrew their regime in a 2001 military invasion.
The evacuation effort included SIV applicants and their immediate families, as well as other Afghans who had assisted the U.S. in various ways but didn’t qualify for SIVs under the program’s narrow requirements. Those groups include Afghans who served in their country’s armed forces as well as extended family members of SIV-eligible Afghans.
Most entered the U.S. under humanitarian parole, which allows noncitizens to enter the country without visas for pressing humanitarian reasons and stay for one or two years, depending on the parole term.
Over the next several months, Afghan evacuees lived on domestic U.S. military bases across the country before settling in American communities through the refugee resettlement process. In February, the Department of Homeland Security announced that the last evacuees had departed from their temporary housing on military bases.
Video: A year after Kabul escape, family remains apart (Reuters)
But around 76,000 of the Afghans paroled into the U.S. lack a clear pathway to permanent legal status, according to estimates from the International Refugee Assistance Project. Although most are expected to be eligible for either special immigrant visas or asylum, those application processes can take years. And tens of thousands of Afghans are still stranded overseas.
Afghanistan marks 1 year since Taliban seizure as woes mount
KABUL (AP) — The Taliban on Monday marked a year since they seized the Afghan capital of Kabul, a rapid takeover that triggered a hasty escape of the nation's Western-backed leaders, sent the economy into a tailspin and fundamentally transformed the country. Bearded Taliban fighters, some hoisting rifles or the white banners of their movement, staged small victory parades on foot, bicycles and motor cycles in the streets of the capital. One small group marched past the former U.S. Embassy, chanting “Long live Islam” and “Death to America.
The SIV program “has been beleaguered with dysfunction and delays that resulted in so many allies stuck in Afghanistan despite active, imminent threats to their lives,” said Susannah Cunningham, advocacy manager at LIRS during a press conference on Wednesday. “Neither of these programs will offer a speedy way for either people to get out of Afghanistan or to get status here — and their parole is running out.”
In total, there are around 74,000 principal Afghan SIV applicants in the pipeline both in the U.S. and overseas, DHS officials said last month. Meanwhile, the total asylum case backlog is more than 400,000.
What began in Congress as a largely bipartisan effort to help Afghan allies of the U.S. later hit snags, when Republicans opposed Democratic plans to adjust the statuses of tens of thousands of paroled Afghans.
Lawmakers signed off on two large tranches of funding for Operation Allies Welcome, in the continuing resolution that passed last September, as well as another stopgap in December. But when the White House asked Congress to include the Afghan Adjustment Act in a Ukraine-focused supplemental spending bill this May, some Republicans said the security procedures were not stringent enough.
Several were concerned with a Defense Department inspector general report, released in February, which found that some Afghan evacuees had not been fully vetted using available department data and that a few dozen of those individuals could not be located.
White House defends Biden's Afghanistan withdrawal from 'advocates for endless war'
In a new memo, the White House is defending President Joe Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal last year, claiming it strengthened national security by freeing up military and intelligence resources that the United States can deploy in other areas. The White House also argued an imperfect deal negotiated by predecessors rendered inevitable a chaotic exit from the two-decade war.The memo comes as Republicans in Congress accuse Biden in a 100-page report of failing to prepare for the U.S. drawdown and knowingly misleading the country as it was underway. The investigation led by Rep.
In the bill introduced last week, the backers included an additional layer of security vetting for Afghans who hope to adjust their statuses, assuaging some hesitation from Republicans such as Sen.of South Carolina.
“This legislation starts us down a road of creating a strong vetting program to protect our national security while allowing for Afghans who risked their lives for America to move forward in the process, and while determining what to do with other parolees we brought to the U.S. after our hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan,” Graham said in a news release.
Rep., R-Fla., one of the first lawmakers to begin raising concern about Afghan SIV backlogs as the withdrawal date approached, said Congress should reach a solution before the parole term of some Afghans expires.
“A number of these Afghans are reaching the limit of their parole, and I certainly do not ever want to promote any type of illegal immigration or visa overstay,” Waltz said. “So that leaves these people, who stood and fought with us and can’t go back, in a very precarious position.”
Impact of delay
In the meantime, most Afghan evacuees settling into new homes, jobs and schools are unable to plan for a long-term future in the U.S. and continue to worry about family members still stranded in Afghanistan.
“The majority of these families don’t have any certainty about whether they can stay in the U.S. because of their tenuous legal status,” O’Mara Vignarajah said. “There is just so much stress and anxiety about whether they’ll be allowed to set down roots here.”
Advocates of the Afghan Adjustment Act stress that the move has precedent: similar laws were passed following refugee crises in other nations. After the Vietnam War, the U.S. allowed Vietnamese refugees to adjust their statuses, and they did the same for Cubans after the Cuban Revolution.
One former Afghan interpreter, known by the pseudonym Lucky, said at a press conference Wednesday that the uncertainty is weighing on his friends and family who are in the U.S. under humanitarian parole.
“I have friends and family who came here last year who are in very bad situations,” he said. “They are going through so much stress and concern about their visa status and the future of their family and children.”
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Biden's enduring Afghanistan debacle .
Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command when Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, fell to jihadists on Aug. 15, 2021, recently told Politico: "My belief is we should have stayed. I believe that everything that happened flowed from that basic decision [to withdraw]." McKenzie is quite right about this. President Joe Biden and his surrogates have sometimes allowed that mistakes were made in the execution of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. How could they not after scenes of Afghans falling from moving planes and the massacre of 200 people at the Kabul airport by the Islamic State.