The Washington Post Sunday
Afghan parolees are stuck in limbo
It is up to Congress to help.
AFGHANS FLEEING their country in recent weeks have braved hardships from violent retaliation to closed borders and overfull flights. Now, those who have managed to make it out on their way to the United States face new obstacles.
President Biden’s administration wisely realized amid the past month’s evacuation that the backlogged asylum, refugee and Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) processes couldn’t handle the influx — so the Department of Health and Human Services exercised its authority to admit at least 50,000 of the displaced as humanitarian parolees. This move solved one problem and introduced another. Parolees are granted work authorization and a reprieve from any deportation risk, but they aren’t eligible for the benefits available to traditional refugees, such as Medicaid and Medicare, food assistance, and nonfinancial support including Englishlanguage classes or help enrolling children in school. It means that while coming here became far easier, actually living here could prove close to impossible.
The good news is, this isn’t the first time the country has confronted this challenge. Operation Safe Haven ushered in 27,000 as parolees after the Hungarian revolution; Operation New Life brought in more than 130,000 after the Vietnam War; now, Operation Allies Refuge has a map to follow. Money is essential, but it’s also not enough. The State Department is already providing approximately $2,500 per refugee to be split between the individual and a resettlement agency, and some portion of the $6.4 billion the White House has requested from Congress to address the crisis could be put to a similar purpose — in addition to being used to process applications more quickly, as well as aid Afghans in so-called lily-pad screening locations abroad. Some of the funding earmarked to propping up the military of the fallen government in Afghanistan could also be reprogrammed.
Just as important as the dollars are less-noticed parts of the administration’s request. Congress must do as it has done in the past and afford parolees the same benefits that refugees and SIV recipients receive, as outlined in the bipartisan Welcomed Act recently introduced in the House of Representatives. Legislators should also create a pathway to permanent immigration status for all who enter during this period of transition — wresting out of legal limbo even those who, in fear of reprisal, burned critical documents. Temporary Protected Status would offer a measure of stability, but only a measure; after all, it’s temporary by definition.
Thousands of Afghans who risked their lives alongside Americans remain at risk inside Afghanistan; the administration’s effort to evacuate those who want to leave must not flag. For those who have made it out, it’s now Congress’s job to ensure the United States offers a true home.