HomePoliticsUS Expands Eligibility for Afghans and Others Seeking Humanitarian Entry

US Expands Eligibility for Afghans and Others Seeking Humanitarian Entry

The Biden administration quietly expanded eligibility rules for immigrants seeking humanitarian entry into the US amid growing criticism over the rejection of thousands of applications by Afghans seeking refuge from the Taliban, internal government guidance and training materials obtained by the CBS News program.

The policy changes, implemented internally this spring, refer to a decades-old legal authority called conditional freedom which allows US immigration officials to authorize immigrants who do not have visas to enter the country if they have urgent humanitarian needs or if their arrival promotes a “significant public benefit.”

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agency that oversees the legal immigration system, typically receives about 2,000 parole applications from immigrants abroad each year. But the number of parole requests rose sharply after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August 2021.

Tens of thousands of Afghans, many of whom were unable to get into Kabul airport in time to be evacuated by the United States last summer, have applied for parole. They include Afghans who assisted US forces, their family members, former Afghan government employees, members of the long-persecuted Hazara ethnic group, and others who believe they may face persecution from the Taliban.

Between July 2021 and the beginning of this month, USCIS received more than 46,000 applications for parole from Afghans abroad. But as of June 2, it had awarded fewer than 5,000 applications and denied 93% of them, CBS News. reported earlier this month. More than 40,000 Afghan parole applications remain unresolved.

Multiple USCIS parole denials reviewed by CBS News said the Afghan applicants had not shown they were at risk of “serious or individualized harm” or “imminent return to a country where the beneficiary would be harmed.”

The extremely high denial rate and massive backlog of cold cases drew withering criticism from some Democratic lawmakers and refugee advocates, who accused US officials of relying on a narrow interpretation of parole authority to unfairly deny applications. of desperate Afghans.

Advocates also juxtaposed the lofty denials with the Biden administration’s extensive use of parole authority to admit other populations, including Ukrainians displaced by Russia’s invasion of their homeland and more than 70,000 Afghans who managed to be evacuated and resettled by the US last year.

Internal USCIS guidance obtained by CBS News shows that the agency expanded eligibility for humanitarian parole to include those who can prove to be members of a “target group” that has faced “widespread, systematic, or widespread” attacks. Members of a targeted group must face threats of “serious harm,” which could include physical or psychological injury or death, according to the guidance.

Prior to the changes, humanitarian parole applicants were instructed to submit third-party evidence that specifically named them as targets of serious harm.

The revised guidance for USCIS adjudicators said this evidence “still remains the preferred evidence,” but expanded other forms of “strong evidence” to include country condition reports showing targeting by a group; evidence that the applicant belongs to that group; and proof that potential persecutors know or are likely to know of the applicant’s membership in that group.

“Isolated incidents of harm to other members of the group will generally not be enough,” the guide said.

For applications from persons in third countries, the guide instructs adjudicators to consider the applicant’s lack of access to international protection programs; risk of serious harm there; the possibility of their deportation to a place where they may be harmed; and their living conditions and legal status.

USCIS confirmed the policy changes in a statement to CBS News, saying they were the result of an internal agency review of the humanitarian parole process.

“USCIS issued revised guidance for adjudicators on the types of evidence we consider relevant when evaluating parole applications based primarily on protection against individualized or targeted harm,” the agency said. “With the significant influx of new parole applications based primarily on protection needs in the aftermath of the Afghan humanitarian crisis, USCIS decided it was appropriate to review our policies.”

Afghan refugees in Pakistan
Children walk past makeshift houses on a side street as Afghan refugees struggle to survive in harsh conditions in Islamabad, Pakistan, on May 29, 2022.

Muhammed Semih Ugurlu/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The policy changes implemented by USCIS could benefit some of the tens of thousands of Afghans who have pending parole cases, as well as future applicants. But immigration lawyers said the rules’ impact will depend on how adjudicators enforce them and whether they reduce the high rate of denials.

“At first glance, it looks like it could be potentially beneficial. We just have to see how it’s actually implemented and adjudicated,” said Karlyn Kurichety, legal director of Al Otro Lado, a California-based advocacy group that has been petitioning for freedom. conditional. requests on behalf of the Afghans.

In addition, USCIS has outlined other reasons why it has not processed the majority of Afghan parole applications and why it has denied the vast majority of cases, including the argument that those seeking permanent settlement should use the US refugee process, which can take years.

In a response earlier this month to concerns raised by Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ed Markey in December 2021, DHS Undersecretary for Legislative Affairs Alice Lugo said a nine-fold increase in release requests parole had increased processing times by “several months.”

“The main limiting factor for timely adjudication of parole applications is that the volume of receipts significantly exceeds available resources,” Lugo wrote in his June 14 letter, noting that USCIS has assigned 90 officers to review these cases. .

Lugo also insisted that the “evidential standard for parole applicants is the same regardless of the beneficiary’s nationality or location.” But he noted that many Afghan parole applicants are still in Afghanistan, where they cannot undergo required in-person interviews with US officials.

“However, because the US Embassy in Afghanistan has suspended operations, including all consular processing, USCIS is unable to complete approval of a parole application while the beneficiary is in Afghanistan,” Lugo wrote in its letterwhich was obtained by CBS News.

Refugee advocates have urged USCIS to conduct parole interviews for Afghans remotely or waive them, as has been done with displaced Ukrainians paroled into the US under a sponsorship program. private created at the end of April. They have also advocated a similar private sponsorship policy for Afghans.

Under the Unite for Ukraine program, USCIS adjudicates sponsorship applications from US individuals to determine if they have the financial means to support displaced Ukrainians. Once these sponsorship offers are approved and background checks are completed, Ukrainians identified by American sponsors can travel to the US, where they are granted parole by airport officials.

Humanitarian applications submitted by Afghans and others generally require application fees of $575, while sponsorship applications for the United for Ukraine program are free. Unlike parole applications filed by Afghans, United for Ukraine cases are processed electronically in a matter of weeks or even days.

DHS has denied using different standards for these populations, saying it is committed to helping both displaced Ukrainians and Afghans at risk. He has also argued that the Afghans are seeking permanent resettlement, while the Ukrainians need a temporary safe haven.

But critics disagree. Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat, called the processing of Afghan parole applications “dismal and discriminatory.”

“Thousands of Afghans have been denied humanitarian parole, and only a few dozen have been approved,” Markey told CBS News. “This is a moral crisis. The American people are ready to welcome these families into our neighborhoods with open arms.”

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