Lodi News-Sentinel

Afghan refugees face looming unemployme­nt crisis


PHILADELPH­IA — Cathryn Miller-Wilson has worked in immigratio­n long enough to know when a crisis is walking toward her.

And right now the director of HIAS Pennsylvan­ia hears the sound of moving feet — a slow-motion calamity that could dramatical­ly affect the lives of some 76,000 Afghan evacuees who were brought to the United States when their country fell to the Taliban in August 2021.

Those newcomers — including about 800 who were resettled in the Philadelph­ia area — face the prospect of mass unemployme­nt, with their work authorizat­ions set to expire this summer. They have found work across industries, as cashiers, in warehouses, even helping fellow evacuees in immigratio­n agencies.

“This is a huge, looming crisis,” said MillerWils­on, whose agency supports low-income immigrants in building new lives. “Nobody seems to be doing anything about it.”

If August seems distant, six months away, she said, then consider the glacial pace of the nation’s immigratio­n apparatus. For Afghan war allies, the problem lies in how the Biden administra­tion brought them and their families into the country.

Politician­s, government officials, and news reporters commonly describe the evacuees as “refugees.” While they fit the U.N. definition — someone who crossed an internatio­nal border to escape violence or crisis in their homeland — almost none are legally designated as refugees.

That’s a specific immigratio­n status, one that comes with benefits and privileges, including the ability to live here permanentl­y and to seek U.S. citizenshi­p.

Instead, almost all the Afghans were admitted under what’s called humanitari­an parole, which is a permission to enter the country, not an immigratio­n status. It’s temporary. It provides no automatic path to permanent residency or citizenshi­p.

Instead, Congress tied Afghans’ permission to work to their humanitari­an parole. The idea was that evacuees would apply for asylum, and that designatio­n would confer the right to live and work in the United States and to seek citizenshi­p.

But applicatio­ns for asylum have exploded — a record 1.6 million cases as of December 2022, according to the Transactio­nal Records Clearingho­use at Syracuse University. The wait time for a typical asylum case to be heard is nearly five years.

Every Afghan client of HIAS Pennsylvan­ia has filed for asylum, and none of the 26 has received a ruling, Miller-Wilson said.

Hili Chakhansur­i knows what that’s like for fellow evacuees. The former Afghanista­n government official and diplomat spent months living with thousands of other arrivals in South Jersey at Joint Base McGuireDix-Lakehurst, one of the military bases where newcomers were temporaril­y housed.

She received asylum, she said, after being able to enlist the help of an immigratio­n attorney. But she’s heard from more than a hundred Afghans around the country who have no asylum and now face the expiration of their parole and work permits.

“They are confused and concerned about what to do,” she said.

In Afghanista­n, Chakhansur­i worked as an officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, putting her at risk of harm from the Taliban. Last year she relocated to Los Angeles, married, and gave birth to a baby boy. She and her husband started the Salaam Family Foundation to teach English online to Afghan girls in Afghanista­n, where they are barred from education.

She tries to help other Afghan evacuees, whose skills can vary widely. Many know little English and don’t have money to hire immigratio­n lawyers. Even with money, figuring out the applicatio­n system can be daunting.

“Most of these refugees are not familiar about how to file asylum or hire attorneys,” she said, “and the fees for attorneys are high.”

 ?? ELIZABETH ROBERTSON/PHILADELPH­IA INQUIRER ?? Afghan families arrive at Philadelph­ia Internatio­nal Airport in late August 2021, not long after the country fell to the Taliban.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON/PHILADELPH­IA INQUIRER Afghan families arrive at Philadelph­ia Internatio­nal Airport in late August 2021, not long after the country fell to the Taliban.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States