(RNS) — For months, U.S. religious congregations have worked to help Afghan families evacuated after the 20-year war in Afghanistan secure housing and jobs and acclimate to life in America.
But the fate of some 36,000 of those evacuees is uncertain because they are being resettled in the U.S. without a direct pathway to permanent legal residency. In fact, unless they apply and attain asylum status, a cumbersome and backlogged process, their legal residency status will likely come to an end next year.
For that reason, HIAS, one of nine faith-based resettlement agencies that contract with the federal government, is hosting a National Call-In Day for Afghans on Tuesday (Feb. 8), urging congregations and individuals to call members of Congress and urge them to pass the so-called Afghan Adjustment Act, which would allow evacuees to apply for permanent status after one year.
“We have the opportunity to take action that could really mean that people can breathe a little easier and feel some safety and stability and be able to call this country home,” said Russ Agdern, grassroots campaign manager for HIAS. “But first we need to make something happen with this policy.”
HIAS and other refugee resettlement agencies are hoping Congress might add the Afghan Adjustment Act to a federal appropriations bill. The current budget continuing resolution ends on Feb. 18, and resettlement agencies hope to tack the act onto the next spending deal.
The Afghan Adjustment Act has not yet been introduced in Congress, but HIAS said it will be sponsored by U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, in the House, and by Democratic Sens. Chris Coons, Amy Klobuchar and Patrick Leahy in the upper chamber.
More than 76,000 Afghans were airlifted from Afghanistan in August, in the largest evacuation and resettlement operation undertaken by the U.S. since the fall of Saigon in 1975.
But because of the hurried evacuation, prompted by the collapse of the Afghan government and the Taliban seizing control, the Biden administration bypassed the traditional refugee process to resettle Afghans.
About half of the 76,000 evacuees secured an Afghan Special Immigrant Visa, know as an SIV, and can apply for permanent residency, a yearslong process . The other half — approximately 36,000 — arrived in the U.S. as humanitarian parolees. They have no pathway to permanent residency.
“Humanitarian parole only allows them temporary residence in the U.S. for up to two years, and we believe that fulfilling the pledge to our Afghan allies requires giving them the legal certainty that there is a path to permanent residency,” said Krish O’Mara Vingnarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
LIRS has resettled 9,238 Afghan parolees so far.
About 7,000 Afghan evacuees remain at New Jersey’s Fort Dix or Wisconsin’s Fort McCoy waiting to be settled. The government has set a target date of Feb. 15 for moving them off the military bases. LIRS expects to settle another 1,000 or so Afghans now on the bases.
Other resettlement agencies, such as Church World Service, are also encouraging volunteers to support the act.
“Everybody’s working real hard to resettle these folks and what happens when their status expires?” asked Agdern. “There is a realization the clock is ticking in terms of getting this done.”