The Stream

Is the US doing enough for Afghans seeking escape?

On Tuesday, February 22 at 19:30 GMT:
Thousands of people in Afghanistan hoping the US will give them a lifeline from possible Taliban reprisal are facing a long wait, with family members despondent about the prospects of their loved ones securing safe passage.

They are pinning their hopes on the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) granting them humanitarian parole, which the US applied to the majority of about 76,000 Afghans who were airlifted from Afghanistan in July and August 2021 as US troops withdrew.

Humanitarian parole is a USCIS programme that allows individuals to temporarily stay in the US without a visa “for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit”. Those who are approved and move to the US can then make further applications towards being granted semi-permanent or permanent status.

But the bulk of the 43,000 applications USCIS has received since July remain outstanding. And the vast majority of completed cases have ended in denial, with USCIS saying 1,500 applications have been rejected so far. Only about 170 cases have been conditionally approved.

Lawyers and advocates for Afghan applicants to the humanitarian parole scheme now fear that the number of denials to date is indicative of a trend – and that the vast majority of outstanding petitions will also be turned down. Many applications are from Afghans who worked for US and coalition forces in Afghanistan before the Taliban took power in August and who now live in daily fear of retaliation. Other Afghans who crossed the border into neighbouring countries are also anxiously hoping for a positive outcome.

The urgency of the applicants’ plight is fuelled by an economic crisis in Afghanistan that has left millions hungry and in need of assistance. But as foreign aid to the country has dwindled in the wake of the Taliban takeover, Afghan advocacy groups say US plans to divide $7 billion in frozen Afghan central bank assets between humanitarian aid and compensation for families of the September 11, 2001 attacks will only make the situation in Afghanistan worse.

In this episode of The Stream, we’ll learn about the obstacles that Afghan applicants for humanitarian parole are enduring, and whether the US immigration system is humanely meeting the challenge.

In this episode of The Stream, we are joined by:
Halema Wali, @_halema_
Co-founder, Afghans for a Better Tomorrow

Sediqa Fahimi, @FahimiSediqa
Fulbright Scholar

Laila Ayub, @ayublaila
Lawyer and organiser