There’s A Little-Known Tool To Protect Afghan Allies. Let Them Use It.
Yesterday, in his first speech since American troops left Afghanistan, President Biden hailed the eleventh-hour evacuation of 120,000 Americans and Afghans as a resounding success. Not once did he mention the allies that we left behind. Tens of thousands of Afghans who supported American efforts in Afghanistan over the last 20 years are stranded in Afghanistan, fearing for their lives. These include Afghan translators for the U.S. military who have been approved or applied for Special Immigrant Visas, Afghans approved or have applied for P-1 and P-2 designation granting them access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, and others to whom the U.S. made an explicit promise of evacuation. President Biden has left these Afghans with no clear path to safety. Yet one already exists: humanitarian parole.
Humanitarian parole allows people outside the United States to enter and remain here temporarily for humanitarian reasons or for significant public benefit. Parole is typically granted for 1-2 years to provide safety for people under threat. Parolees must either leave the country at the end of their parole period or regularize their immigration status in order to stay, such as applying for a visa, seeking asylum, or obtaining citizenship. Applicants for parole are required to demonstrate the financial means for self-support, or to have a sponsor who will guarantee their financial support during the parole period if it becomes necessary. Sponsorship ensures that parolees will not receive public assistance while in the United States. People may apply for humanitarian parole in order to stay safely in the United States while their SIV visas or P-1 or P-2 designation is being processed.
Anyone may apply for humanitarian parole, but the U.S. does not make it easy to do so. The Secretary of Homeland Security recently announced an expansion of Humanitarian Parole to 50,000 Afghans, a number far less than would be required for the Afghan allies stranded in their home country. Many of those slots will likely go to Afghans who have already been evacuated from the country. DHS has not provided guidance on how the 50,000 slots will be allocated or processed. USCIS only released an announcement of the Afghan program on August 26, too late for many applications to be submitted before the Afghan withdrawal. The initial announcement only included a link to previously-existing USCIS guidance on Humanitarian Parole, much of which is unclear. At least three different websites cover various information on applying for humanitarian parole. The site for Afghans includes no information about designating an attorney or representative, when many Afghans are in hiding, trying to flee, and may not be reachable to receive information. It provides no guidance of what embassy to designate for routing, when the U.S. embassy in Kabul is closed. USCIS provides little guidance on the criteria it will use to determine who receives parole. The International Refugee Assistance Project used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain USCIS’s training manual for officers deciding on humanitarian parole back in 2017. However, this guide has not been updated and does not provide details specific to the current situation in Afghanistan. (I have prepared a guide for Afghans seeking to apply for humanitarian parole and those wishing to assist and sponsor them, incorporating information from the USCIS training manual and experienced immigration attorneys, available here). Finally, the applications require a $575 application fee per person, making applications cost-prohibitive for many Afghans. DHS has stubbornly refused to waive these fees.
To keep our promises to our Afghan allies, the Biden Administration or Congress must make it easier for Afghans to apply for humanitarian parole. First, USCIS should issue clear guidance on how Afghans can create compelling applications for humanitarian parole, and how others can assist them in their applications and sponsor them. They should also waive or significantly reduce the $575 fee for Afghans applying for parole. Short of that, they should guarantee that those applying for a fee waiver will not have their applications delayed.
Second, the Departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security should exercise their parole authority to protect our Afghan allies. Government agencies have legal authority to request parole for certain individuals. They should immediately do so for SIV and P-1/P-2 recipients and applicants and assist them in leaving Afghanistan or the third countries to which they have been evacuated. They should also do so for other Afghans who supported U.S. efforts.
Third, Congress should pass legislation expanding the number of slots available for humanitarian parole to at-risk Afghans, and ensuring that their parole applications be expedited. Similar programs have been used for Cuban and Haitian nationals during times of emergency. These programs have saved countless lives.
Allowing greater access to humanitarian parole will help us keep our promises to our Afghan allies. Yet President Biden prefers to forget those who fought alongside us. Incredulously, President Biden did not mention Special Immigrant Visa holders or P-1/P-2 designees yesterday in his speech, nor those who have already received parole. He ignored the other Afghan allies who supported U.S. efforts for twenty years. He merely said that the Taliban has assured them they will have the chance to leave—a promise that can hardly be trusted. Instead, he said of the evacuation, “No nation, no nation has ever done anything like it in all of history.” That statement is simply not true – because the U.S. once did it even better. In 1975—forty-six years ago—the U.S. evacuated 130,000 people from Saigon. After a longer war, with a longer time frame for evacuation, and with greater military capacity, the U.S. should have done better. We can do right by more of our allies now by increasing access to humanitarian parole.