One year after American’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, bill promises to help refugees seeking citizenship

Thousands of Afghan refugees are stuck in legal limbo.
Afghan American Foundation
Afghan American Foundation(DC Bureau)
Published: Aug. 18, 2022 at 11:51 AM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - In a Washington D.C. park, protestors gather with paint brushes to draw a somber mural to mark the one year anniversary of the fall of Afghanistan’s capital and the rise of Taliban control.

The United States completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan on August 30, 2021. A year on, demonstrators tell the Washington News Bureau the mission is far from complete as thousands of refugees seek a path to citizenship in the United States. A bipartisan group of lawmakers have issued statements saying they’re working on a bill to fix the backlog.

“We are here to protest, to mourn and to paint and heal the wounds that our country and our countrymen have suffered,” said Afghan refugee Jawaid Kotwal of Virginia. He sits on the board of the Afghan-American Foundation and founded Afghans Living in DC.

Nearly 80,000 Afghans have fled to the United States. But Kotwal says more are seeking an escape as many are being threatened with death or torture for their work in areas such as intelligence gathering or the media.

Kotwal’s cousin is among the refugees who did make it to America. But ever since, he’s been stuck in limbo trying to obtain permanent citizenship.

“Those who made it like my cousin have some sense of relief. But, it’s not done for them. My cousin, I just spoke to him 5 minutes ago actually when I was on the phone, had an asylum interview. So, he needs to adjust his status and then bring his his newborn son that was born actually days after the fall of the government and he hasn’t seen his child,” he said.

Lawmakers understand there’s a backlog in processing. A bipartisan group of Senators have introduced the “Afghan Adjustment Act” that seeks to help Afghans with temporary status, that undergo additional vetting, to apply for permanent legal residency. The act would also expand the Special Immigrant Visa process for Afghan refugees.

Lawmakers say the bill would implement these key changes:

- Allow Afghans on humanitarian status who submit to additional vetting to apply for permanent legal status. For these Afghans, the primary options under current law to gain permanent status are through our asylum system or the SIV process

- Expand the SIV program to include four previously omitted groups, including the Female Tactical Teams of Afghanistan, the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command, the Afghan Air Force, and the Special Mission Wing of Afghanistan

- Establish a task force to develop and implement a strategy for supporting Afghans outside of the United States who are eligible for SIV status and require the Department of State to respond to Congressional inquiries about SIV applications.

“The Afghan Adjustment Act will enable our Afghan allies who served as translators, interpreters, guards to come to this country and be citizens in a country that they love. And they served, they sacrificed. They put their lives on the line. And, the Afghan Adjustment Act will enable them to find a safe haven because they have targets on their backs. They are persecuted and tortured and threatened with death in Afghanistan now simply because they came to our aid,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) who is among the lawmakers backing the bill.

Kotwal, who immigrated to the United states in 2001, calls the bill great. He said the help is necessary not only for refugees who made it to America, but those that are still waiting to come. His own parents, who left Afghanistan for Pakistan, are among the people fighting for a path to the United States.

“My message for the American people is that refugees are the safest immigrants that’s out there. They go through numerous background checks and security checks. And AAA (Afghanistan Adjustment Act) actually ensures that people who came here go through vigorous security regime before they’re granted any form of citizenship or permanent resident status,” said Kotwal. “The AAA or Afghan Adjustment Act has a very good chance. But that doesn’t mean it’s a done deal. There’s still some obstacles.... so I’m calling on the U.S. public to call in their senators, their members of Congress and urge them to pass this into law to help those that are in limbo, those who have come here and they don’t have a path to give them some hope. Those people who want to help us and those that have helped us are still stuck in Afghanistan. So, this would be a great deal for our community because they will become law abiding, taxpaying, job creating Americans like I am.”

Find more data here on refugee arrivals state-by-state.

Read more about Afghan refugees living in the United States here.

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