My staff has worked for more than four months to provide updates, resources, contact information for evacuations, and more in response to hundreds of requests for help from the Afghan community during this incredibly challenging evacuation effort. Nearly 75,000 Afghans have so far been evacuated to the U.S., including around 150 recent arrivals in Maine. We have welcomed them into our communities with open arms. I believe we have a moral responsibility to provide safe harbor and refuge for the Afghan people who supported our military mission over the past two decades, and I will continue to back efforts to protect those who have endured this decades-long conflict.
Given these many challenges facing individuals in Afghanistan and in the Afghan community in Maine, I wanted to share some of what the federal government is doing to help address the situation.
Evacuations: Prior to August 31, 2021, over 122,000 individuals were evacuated from Afghanistan. Since that time, the US government has facilitated the departure of 479 American citizens (and immediate family), 450 Lawful Permanent Residents (and immediate family), and 256 SIV holders with 1003 of their immediate family members. Through a collaborative agreement between Qatar and the Taliban, two flights a week have been departing Afghanistan, although flights last week were cancelled, with resumption anticipated soon. The US has welcomed more than 74,000 Afghans through Operation Allies Welcome and is prepared to facilitate the resettlement of additional qualifying Afghans in the coming weeks and months, including the approximately 3,000 individuals who are at overseas transit locations for processing to come to the US. More than 38,000 Afghans, American citizens, and Lawful Permanent Residents have been relocated from military bases in the US to their new communities across the country, including more than 150 recent arrivals in Maine.
Coordinated Response: At the President’s direction, DHS created a group to coordinate the efforts of Operation Allies Welcome. The Secretary of Homeland Security is leading an effort with representatives from across the government (including the Departments of Defense, State, and Homeland Security) to coordinate responses and ensure unity of efforts that range from international negotiations to evacuation priorities, security screening, and covid vaccinations.
Help: A new, emergency program—The Afghan Placement Assistance Program—was quickly developed in response to the evacuation efforts and allows for the provision of initial relocation support services for Afghan parolees.
Staffing: USCIS has increased staffing to accommodate the surge in applications for family reunification and humanitarian parole as well as expedited processing of family reunification petitions for Afghan beneficiaries. In addition, they have waived immigrant application fees for Afghan evacuees.
Congress: In September, Congress passed a continuing resolution to fund the government from October 1 to December 3, 2021. That legislation included $6.3 billion for Operation Allies Welcome to support resettlement efforts, provide care for Afghan evacuees on US military installations, and assist with additional evacuations from Afghanistan for US citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents, and Afghans at risk. In December, Congress passed an updated continuing resolution which included an additional $7 billion for these efforts.
I have also joined many of my colleagues in writing to President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken, and Secretary of Homeland Security Mayorkas regarding our concerns and priorities around the Afghan evacuation and refugee admissions process. These include:
- A letter to the Departments of Homeland Security and State during the evacuation urging them to take immediate steps, including the establishment of a special humanitarian parole program, to expedite the relocation of Afghan allies and their families, women and girls, journalists, employees of non-governmental organizations, translators, and many others at risk.
- A letter to President Biden during the evacuation urging his Administration to utilize all options available to evacuate as many Afghan women leaders, activists, journalists, and others as possible by providing humanitarian parole to vulnerable women, working with regional partners to establish emergency transit centers to aid in rapid evacuations, expanding the Priority 2 designation status to include women who face severe persecution due to their occupation, activism, or public life, and leveraging full diplomatic weight in any negotiations with the Taliban to help ensure safe passage out of the country.
- A letter to the State Department highlighting the existential threat LGBTQ+ Afghans face under Taliban rule and urging the agency to expand Priority 2 designation status, which grants US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) access for certain Afghan nationals, to explicitly include LGBTQ+ Afghans.
- A letter to the State Department expressing immense concern for the status of women and girls in Afghanistan and urging the agency to implement a women, peace, and security- centered approach to Afghanistan that prioritizes evacuating Afghan women leaders, SIV applicants and their families, prioritizes the long-term protection and advancements of women’s rights and security, and pursues a more stable and secure Afghanistan for the future.
- A letter to the Departments of Homeland Security and State urging the designation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Afghan nationals within the United States and establishment of a widespread campaign to notify the Afghan community of the decision and any actions that they must take to apply. TPS is a form of statutory protection from deportation for foreign nationals in the US whose countries of origin are experiencing temporary and extraordinary conditions such as armed conflict or natural disaster that render the country unsafe for return. TPS designation also includes work authorization.
- A letter to President Biden urging that he increase the annual US Refugee Assistance Program (USRAP) cap to no less than 200,000 refugees for Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22). The Biden Administration announced in October that the refugee cap would be raised from 62,500 to 125,000 for FY22.
- A letter to the Department of Homeland Security requesting that the agency waive all application fees for Afghans applying for humanitarian parole into the US and, for those who may have already applied and requested a fee waiver, to ensure that those requests are considered without any further delay. DHS announced in November that it would waive filing fees and streamline application processing for Afghan nationals paroled into the US for humanitarian reasons on or after July 30, 2021.
- A letter to President Biden regarding the increasingly severe humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, including an impending economic crisis and growing food insecurity, and urging his Administration to adjust US economic policies to ensure that vulnerable Afghan families and children are not harmed through policies meant to restrict the Taliban’s access to funds.
- A letter to President Biden, Secretary of Homeland Security Mayorkas, and USCIS Director Jaddou expressing alarm over the seemingly inconsistent and restrictive approach USCIS has taken in implementing the Afghan Humanitarian Parole program, and requesting information regarding what changes USCIS has made to the parameters applied to Afghans applying for humanitarian parole, the basis for the denials being reported, and any staffing issues that may be inhibiting USCIS from adjudicating applications in a timely manner.
Legislation: There are also several bills which I have cosponsored to help facilitate the resettlement of Afghans and their families in the US, including:
- The WELCOMED Act (H.R. 5168) which would ensure that all Afghan humanitarian parolees have access to the same resettlement services as refugees who are resettled through USRAP, including refugee medical assistance, English-language classes, housing assistance, job training and help to enroll children in school.
- The Afghan and Iraqi Allies Resettlement Improvement Act (H.R. 5096) which would direct the State Department to identify and implement additional ways to deliver information to SIV applicants about life in the US to assist with their adjustment process (including by providing information in Dari, Pashto, and Urdu), and direct the Defense and State Departments to jointly establish and operate a program to offer SIV holders employment as translators, interpreters, and cultural awareness instructors.
Earlier this spring, I also cosponsored and voted to help pass in the House of Representatives legislation to expand and expedite the Special Immigration Visa program for Afghan translators and their families, including:
- The HOPE for Afghan SIVs Act (H.R. 3385) which would help streamline the special immigrant visa (SIV) application process for Afghans who risked their lives to assist the US and coalition forces in the country by waiving the requirement to undergo a medical exam for individuals who are otherwise eligible for special immigrant status.
- The ALLIES Act (H.R. 3985) which would increase the visa cap for Afghan interpreters and other partners by an additional 8,000 visas, eliminate certain application requirements to help speed up visa processing, and strengthen protections for surviving spouses and children.
Constituent Services: My staff has worked for the past 4 ½ months to provide updates, resources, contact information for humanitarian groups, and more in response to hundreds of requests for help. Currently, two Qatar Airlines flights are departing weekly, with manifests coordinated by the US State Department and the Afghan Evac Coalition. Current priority is being given to American citizens and immediate family, LPRs and immediate family, and approved SIVs and immediate family with passports and boarding foils. As more of these individuals depart Afghanistan, the priority groups for limited flights will expand.