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US expands eligibility for Afghans and others seeking entry on humanitarian grounds

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

The policy change, implemented internally this spring, concerns a decades-old legal authority called parole that allows US immigration officials to authorize immigrants who do not have a visa to enter the country. If they have urgent human needs or if their arrival is a “critical one”. public benefit.”

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

Thousands of Afghans, many of whom were not able to enter Kabul’s airport in time to be evacuated by the US last summer, filed parole applications. These include Afghans aiding the US military, their relatives, former Afghan government employees, members of the long-persecuted Hazara ethnic group and others who believe they may face Taliban persecution.

Between July 2021 and the beginning of this month, USCIS received more than 46,000 parole applications from Afghans abroad. But as of June 2, it had ruled on less than 5,000 applications and rejected 93% of them, CBS News informed of earlier this month. Afghans have more than 40,000 parole requests unresolved.

Several USCIS parole denials, reviewed by CBS News, state that Afghan applicants have failed to show that they are at risk of “serious targeted or personal harm” or “imminent return to a country where the beneficiary would be harmed.”

The extremely high denial rates, and the massive backlog of unresolved cases, have drawn criticism from some Democratic lawmakers and refugee advocates who have accused US officials of relying on a narrow interpretation of parole authority to unjustly deny requests from desperate Afghans. accused of.

Advocates also linked the high denials with the Biden administration’s widespread use of parole authority to acknowledge other populations, including Ukrainians displaced by Russia’s invasion of their homeland and more than 70,000 Afghans who were evacuated and evacuated by the US last year. managed to restore.

Internal USCIS guidance obtained by CBS News suggests that the agency expanded humanitarian parole eligibility to include those who may prove to be members of a “target group” who have suffered “widespread, systematic, or widespread” attacks. has done. Members of a target group face threats of “serious harm”, which could include physical or psychological injury or death, the guidance said.

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

The revised guidance for USCIS adjudicators said that this evidence “still remains the preferred evidence,” but expanded other forms of “strong evidence” to include country status reports that showed the targeting of a group. Is; Proof that the applicant belongs to that group; and evidence that the potential harasser knows or will likely know of the applicant’s membership in the said group.

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

For applications from individuals in third countries, the guidance directs adjudicators to consider an applicant’s lack of access to international security programs; there the risk of facing serious harm; the possibility of their deportation to a place where they are likely to 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 humane parole process.

“USCIS issued revised guidance to adjudicators on the types of evidence relevant in evaluating parole requests based primarily on protection from personal or targeted harm,” the agency said. “With a significant influx in new parole requests based primarily on security needs following the Afghan humanitarian crisis, USCIS decided a review of our policies was appropriate.”

Afghan refugees in Pakistan
Children walk through temporary homes in a side street as Afghan refugees struggle to survive in difficult conditions in Islamabad, Pakistan, May 29, 2022.

Mohamed Semih Ugurlu / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images


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

“At face value, it looks like it could potentially be beneficial. We just have to see how it is actually implemented and decided,” said Carlin, legal director of the California-based advocacy group El Otro Lado. Kurichetti, who is filing parole. Request on behalf of the Afghans.

In addition, USCIS has outlined other reasons why it has not processed most parole requests from Afghans and why the vast majority of cases are denied, including the argument that those seeking permanent settlement should not be accepted by the US. Must use the refugee process, which can take years.

In response to concerns raised by Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey in December 2021, DHS Assistant Legislative Affairs Secretary Alice Lugo said a nine-fold spike in parole requests has extended processing times “by several months”.

“The main limiting factor for the timely decision of parole applications is that the amount of receipts far exceeds available resources,” Lugo wrote in his June 14 letter, noting that USCIS has asked 90 officers to review these cases. has been appointed.

Lugo also emphasized that “the clear standard for persons requesting parole is the same regardless of nationality or the location of the beneficiary.” But she noted that many Afghan parole applicants are still in Afghanistan, where they cannot take the required personal interviews with US officials.

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

Refugee advocates are urging USCIS to conduct remote parole interviews for Afghans or waive them, as has been done to parole displaced Ukrainians in the US under a private sponsorship program created in late April. He has advocated a similar private sponsorship policy for Afghans.

Under the Uniting for Ukraine program, USCIS decides on sponsorship requests from American individuals to determine whether they have the financial means to support displaced Ukrainians. Once these sponsorship bids are approved and background checks are completed, Ukrainians identified by US sponsors are allowed to travel to the US, where they are granted parole by authorities at airports.

Humanitarian requests filed by Afghans and others typically require a $575 application fee, while sponsorship requests for the Uniting for Ukraine program are free. Unlike parole requests filed by Afghans, Uniting for Ukraine’s cases are being processed electronically in a matter of weeks or days.

DHS denies that it has used different standards for these populations, saying it is committed to assisting both displaced Ukrainians and at-risk Afghans. It has also been argued that Afghans are looking for permanent resettlement, while Ukrainians need a temporary safe haven.

But critics disagree. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, called the processing of Afghan parole requests “disappointing and discriminatory.”

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

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