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BOSTON: Haseena Niazi had based her hopes of getting her fiancÃ© out of Afghanistan on a rarely used immigration provision.
The 24-year-old Massachusetts resident was almost certain his request for humanitarian parole would be approved by the US government, given the evidence he provided about threats from the Taliban he received as he worked on women’s health issues at a hospital near Kabul.
But this month, the request was summarily dismissed, leaving the couple in shock after months of anxiety.
“He had everything they wanted,” said Niazi, a green card holder from Afghanistan. âIt doesn’t make sense that they are rejecting it. It’s like a bad dream. I still can’t believe it.
Federal immigration authorities have sent denial letters to hundreds of Afghans seeking temporary entry on humanitarian grounds in recent weeks, much to the dismay of Afghans and their supporters. In so doing, immigrant advocates say, the Biden administration has failed to deliver on its promise to help Afghans who were left behind after the US military pulled out of the country in August and the takeover by the United States. Taliban.
“It was a huge disappointment,” said Caitlin Rowe, a Texas lawyer, who said she recently received five denials, including one for an Afghan policeman who helped train US troops and was beaten by the Taliban. “These are vulnerable people who genuinely believed there was hope, and I don’t think there was.”
Since the withdrawal from the United States, the United States citizenship and immigration services have received more than 35,000 humanitarian parole applications, of which they have rejected about 470 and conditionally approved more than 140, Victoria Palmer said this week, agency spokesperson.
The little-known program, which does not pave the way for lawful permanent residence in the country, typically receives fewer than 2,000 applications per year from all nationalities, of which USCIS approves about 500 on average, he said. she declared.
Palmer also stressed that humanitarian parole is generally reserved for situations of extreme urgency and is not intended to replace the refugee admissions process, “which is the typical route for people outside the United States who fled their country of origin and seek protection “.
The US government, meanwhile, continues to assist vulnerable Afghans, evacuating more than 900 US citizens and residents and 2,200 other Afghans since the military withdrawal. The State Department said it plans to help resettle up to 95,000 people from Afghanistan during this fiscal year, a process that includes rigorous background checks and vaccinations.
Many of them, however, had been driven from Afghanistan before the departure of the United States. Now, USCIS is responsible for this new wave of humanitarian parole applications and has increased its staff to review them.
The agency said in a statement that applications are being considered on an individual basis, taking into account relatives of Americans and Afghans flown in.
And while USCIS has stressed that parole should not replace treatment for refugees, immigrant advocates argue that it is not a viable option for Afghans stuck in their country due to disability or hiding from the Taliban. Even those who are able to leave Afghanistan, they say, may be forced to wait years in refugee camps, which many cannot afford.
Mohammad, who asked that his last name not be used out of fear for the safety of his family, said his older brother, who worked for international organizations, was one of them. He has been in hiding since the Taliban came looking for him after the US withdrawal, Mohammad said.
During a recent visit to the family home, members of the Taliban took his younger brother instead and detained him for more than a week for ransom, he said. Now Mohammad, a former translator for US troops in Afghanistan who lives in California with special immigration status, is also seeking parole for this brother. He hopes a conditional approval letter can give them a place on one of the US evacuation flights still leaving the country.
âI can provide him with accommodation. I can provide him with everything, âhe said. “Let them come here.”
Immigrant advocates began filing humanitarian parole applications for Afghans in August in a last ditch effort to involve them in US evacuation flights out of the country ahead of the withdrawal.
In some cases it has worked and rumors have spread among immigration lawyers that parole, although typically used in extreme emergencies, could be a way out, Kyra said. Lilien, director of immigration legal services at Jewish Family & Community Services in East Bay, California.
Soon, lawyers began filing thousands of parole applications for Afghans.
When the U.S. Immigration Agency set up a website specifically to process these applications, Lilien said she thought it was a sign of hope. In November, however, the agency released a narrow list of criteria for Afghan applicants and hosted a webinar telling lawyers that parole is usually only granted if there is evidence that someone is facing ” imminent serious harm â.
A few weeks later, the rejection letters started to arrive. Lilien received more than ten but no approval.
“Once the United States has packed its bags and is gone, anyone who has been left behind has only one choice and that is to pursue this archaic refugee channel,” she said. . “It’s so annoying that it took so long for USCIS to be clear on this.”
Wogai Mohmand, a lawyer who helps lead the Afghanistan-focused ANAR project, said the group has filed thousands of requests and since the withdrawal of US troops it has seen nothing but refusals.
Desperation has led some immigration lawyers to give up on parole applications altogether. In Massachusetts, the New England International Institute is suspending new applications until it hears those pending after receiving a flurry of denials.
Chiara St. Pierre, a lawyer for the refugee resettlement agency, said she felt clients like Niazi were facing an “impossible to win” battle.
For Niazi’s fiancÃ©, they had provided copies of written threats sent to the hospital where he works as a medical technician and threatening text messages which he said came from Taliban operatives, she said. It was not enough.
A drafted copy of the denial letter provided by St. Pierre lists the USCIS criteria released in November but does not specify why the agency denied the request, which was filed in August.
For now, Niazi says her fiance lives and works far from Kabul as they weigh their options. They could potentially wait until Niazi becomes a U.S. citizen so she can try to get him here on a fiance visa, but that would take years.
âHe can’t wait that long. It is a miracle every day that he is alive, âsaid Niazi. “I feel like all the doors are closing on him.”
Taxin reported from Orange County, California.