Afghans seeking entry to US face backlog

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About 26,000 applications from Afghan nationals seeking entry to the United States under a special program are awaiting review at an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, which has granted about 100 of them over the last four and a half months, according to the agency and legal aid groups.

Humanitarian parole typically allows non-citizens to enter the U.S. for no longer than a year and is usually used for people who need urgent medical care or to visit a sick relative. In order to stay in the U.S., recipients must apply for asylum or another more permanent immigration status.

In a letter to Biden administration officials sent Oct. 20, more than 100 legal aid groups, law firms and law school clinics said they anticipate filing at least 30,000 humanitarian parole applications with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on behalf of Afghans hoping to leave the country.

The aid groups said they turned to humanitarian parole because of concerns that other options to enter the U.S. including visas or refugee processing could take years.

USCIS spokesperson Victoria Palmer said the agency has been reviewing applications as they come in. In a typical year, USCIS receives fewer than 2,000 applications under the parole program, and has granted roughly 500 a year over the last three years, Palmer said.

Palmer said the agency normally handles most applications in about 90 days, which means many are still within that timeline. Palmer said the surge in applications is likely to lengthen the review process, although she didn’t specify how long.

Thousands of people have sought to get out of Afghanistan following the exit of U.S. forces, which officially withdrew on Aug. 31. The White House’s National Security Council said it has already airlifted 73,000 Afghans to the U.S. Those people are being resettled in the U.S., with some receiving humanitarian parole when they arrived and others using visas or other routes to stay.

As it reviews applications, USCIS has said it will prioritize Afghans who have already left their home country over those still in Afghanistan, because people outside of Afghanistan can undergo background checks at a U.S. embassy or consulate.

Groups such as Oakland, California-based Project ANAR, or Afghan Network for Advocacy and Resources, say humanitarian parole is the best – or only – option for many of the Afghans they are in contact with.

Laila Ayub, an immigration attorney for Project ANAR, says her group has filed at least 500 applications under the program since August, but has yet to receive a decision on any.

USCIS says it has trained an additional 44 people to process the applications, an increase of “nearly five-fold,” according to Palmer. The team reviewing the applications was originally just six people, according to Ayub.

Humanitarian parole applications are expensive and onerous to put together. Each requires a $575 fee, the recruitment of a financial sponsor and extensive documentation of what danger the applicant is in, according to Jennie Guilfoyle, who is leading Austin, Texas-based immigration legal group VECINA’s efforts in Afghanistan. The legal aid groups’ Oct. 20 letter said they had raised about $350,000 to help pay the filing fees.

USCIS “think[s] the cases will move more quickly for people outside of Afghanistan,” Guilfoyle said. “It still doesn’t address the huge problem, the people in Afghanistan in serious risk of harm.”—Agencies

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