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Afghans helped us. Now it’s our turn | Editorial
With residency unsettled, the humanitarian evacuation effort is only half done.
Afghan people climb atop a plane as they await evacuation at the Kabul airport on Aug. 16 after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20- year war. Thousands evacuated to the U.S. still face an uncertain future over their legal residency, a new report to Congress shows.
Afghan people climb atop a plane as they await evacuation at the Kabul airport on Aug. 16 after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20- year war. Thousands evacuated to the U.S. still face an uncertain future over their legal residency, a new report to Congress shows. [ WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP | AFP ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Feb. 3

Thousands of Afghans risked their lives to promote America’s security interests during two decades of war. Their bravery and sacrifice deserve better than more upheaval and misery — and in a foreign land. That’s why the Biden administration and Congress have a moral and political imperative to help these allies secure legal U.S. residency.

A new report to Congress shows the incredible human toll that American bureaucratic indifference has taken on our former front-line partners. About 36,000 Afghans who were evacuated from their country after its collapse in August lack a direct pathway to permanent residency in the U.S., according to a tally by the Department of Homeland Security. The number of Afghans in limbo is 10 times the number of evacuees who had lawful permanent residency (3,592) or who were awarded special immigrant visas (3,290) for working on behalf of U.S. or allied forces.

The evacuees, who braved a final gauntlet of Taliban terror outside the Kabul airport, included both Afghans who assisted the U.S. during its 20-year mission in Afghanistan, and extended family members and associates at risk of retribution by the Taliban. Though the Afghans received temporary humanitarian parole on entering the U.S., relieving them of visa requirements, the evacuees still faced applying through the backlogged asylum process to qualify for legal permanent residency.

This is another example of the jumbled mess that America made of its promise to its Afghan allies. It’s bad enough that of the 82,000 Afghans flown out of the country during the U.S.’s chaotic withdrawal, nearly 37,000 are still awaiting for approval or even to apply through the special immigrant visa program. This delay is unacceptable. Before being allowed into the U.S., after all, these Afghans were subject to rigorous and multiple screenings, including background checks by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Their cases should have been fast-tracked through the immigration system, not left to become stumbling blocks in the resettlement process.

Worse, more than 36,000 Afghans who entered the U.S. on humanitarian parole fall outside any clear-cut pathways for residency, the report concluded. They include extended family members of those who helped the U.S. military or diplomatic missions and Afghans who may be eligible for special visas but had either not applied or not been contacted by U.S. authorities.

“The report highlights the troubling reality that tens of thousands of Afghans find themselves in legal limbo, lacking a direct path to permanent residency in the U.S.,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a major resettlement group, said in a statement to CQ-Roll Call. “The broad use of humanitarian parole and its temporary nature underscore the need for legislative action to provide a pathway to permanent protection.”

The evacuation flights were meant as a first step in America’s multi-billion dollar effort to repay its debts by saving and resettling vulnerable Afghans. But that job doesn’t stop at the airport. Afghans who endangered themselves in service to America and who were forced to leave everything behind deserve a chance to rebuild their lives in a foreign country they now call home. Giving evacuees more certainty over their legal status is essential for them to lay roots, invest and contribute to the American ideal — again. Florida has long been a haven for those fleeing oppression and war, and the state’s congressional delegation should honor that commendable history by being at the forefront of a solution.

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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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