We look at what’s happened to Afghan refugees who have struggled to flee the country since the last U.S. troops left Afghanistan one year ago today. While the U.S. and allied nations helped evacuate some 122,000 people out of Afghanistan, the U.S. has failed to process requests for “humanitarian parole” — a program granting U.S. entry that costs each Afghan applicant $575 and is what Reveal reporter Najib Aminy says is “one of the last possibilities [for Afghans] to leave the country.” According to documents obtained by Reveal, out of the 66,000 applications filed for humanitarian parole, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services approved only 123 of the 66,000 applications for humanitarian parole. Since April, when the Russian invasion began, Citizenship and Immigration Services has approved over 68,000 Ukrainian applications. These applicants were not charged any fees.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN:Today is one year ago. The last U.S. troops departed Afghanistan. At 11:59 p.m., Kabul time, the last U.S. military transport plane took flight, ending the longest U.S. war. In the preceding weeks, the U.S. and allied nations helped evacuate some 122,000 people — mostly Afghans — who were trying to leave the country as the Taliban regained power.
Today we look at what’s happened to Afghan refugees over the past year. Many Afghans are facing significant obstacles as they attempt to rebuild their lives in the U.S. The news agency RevealRecently, The Center for Investigative Reporting reportedThe U.S. government approved less than 2 percent of Afghan humanitarian parole applications. According to documents obtained Reveal66,000 applications for I-131 have been filed for Afghans seeking humanitarian parole in America. These documents show that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had processed less than 8000 applications. The agency approved only 123.
Since April, when the separate program Uniting for Ukraine was launched, more than 68,000 Ukrainian applications have been approved by the agency. The U.S. requested that Afghan applicants pay a $575 per-person fee, while applicants for the Uniting for Ukraine program are exempt from this fee. RevealU.S. News Since last July, Citizenship and Immigration Services has collected fees from Afghan applicants of nearly $20 million.
In a moment, we’ll be joined by Najib Aminy, a reporter with Reveal, but first I want to turn to an excerpt of an interview he conducted for _Reveal_’s weekly radio show. He interviews Nulufar, an Afghan woman. She is a former teacher and still lives in Afghanistan. She applied for the humanitarian parole program months before, as she was concerned for her safety.
NULUFAR:Although it has been a while since we applied for HP we still have not heard back from them. USCIS, even positive or negative. We are still waiting.
NAJIB AMINY:What is the experience of waiting?
NULUFAR:We are at home. We don’t go out. We don’t go shopping. We don’t go park. We don’t go anywhere. We all stay at home in very poor economic and mental conditions. We don’t know how much longer we can remain safe.
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from _Reveal_’s weekly radio show and podcast.
We’re now joined by Najib Aminy. He is a producer at RevealFrom The Center for Investigative Reporting. His most recent report titled “Afghanistan’s Recognition Problem.” His parents left Afghanistan in the 1970s.
It’s great to have you with us, Najib. Talk about your findings. It’s amazing to see the similarities with Ukrainians.
NAJIB AMINY: Yeah. Amy, I am humbled to be here.
I think, you understand, just to paraphrase your words, I believe we at Reveal started to look into this after hearing from — I mean, just for myself personally, hearing from other family members, other legal advocates, other people in the community, that this was a pathway that tens of thousands of Afghans had looked at a year ago. You know, for months there was silence, silence and silence. Then, December came and some rejections were made, but very few applications had been granted. And so it went. USCIS had publicly shared some numbers, but things didn’t really seem to add up. The team at Reveal FOIA’d USCIS and looked into these records, and the numbers are just — they’re just stark, not just the numbers, but even just the approaches to the two different programs.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Najib, it’s shocking that a country, Afghanistan, where the United States was involved in a war for 20 years, and many people there cooperated with the U.S. forces, those folks are being asked to pay to apply for humanitarian parole, whereas Ukrainians are able to apply for free. What do you make of why — why this policy difference?
NAJIB AMINY:The root of the problem is, in my opinion, the immigration system. So, Afghans were looking at different immigration routes at the time. There was a special immigrant Visa. There are two programs: Priority 1 and Priority 2. All of these systems are backlogged, which was the reality at the time. Legislators and legal advocates were pushing Afghans to apply to the humanitarian parole program. It’s something that’s used in extreme urgent situations, if you need to do surgery or if you want to go and visit a dying relative that might be in the U.S. And so, this specific program, it doesn’t — you know, it isn’t a pathway to sort of citizenship, but it is temporary entry into the U.S. And one of the criteria is harm. Tens of thousands believed that they were in danger and that they were eligible to apply for the program. And USCIS even had a webpage with instructions for Afghans for this program, instructions as detailed to write, you know, “Please write ‘expedited’ in black ink in the top right corner.”
And so, this was a program that was the last avenue — I shouldn’t say “last,” but, you know, one of the last possibilities to leave the country. It typically takes about a quarter of the time, but these are just a few of the findings. USCISThese applications took 90 days to be processed. The data shows that it’s taken more than twice as long. We just heard from Nulufar that those kinds of delays, that limbo, I mean, there’s the psychological impact of it, but there’s also the physical safety, where — how much longer can you stay in these safe houses? How much, you know, can you sort of like stay put before either, you know, perhaps the Taliban might come knocking on your door, or you just — you run out of resources to continue living in that kind of situation?
And so, going back to your question, Juan — why are people paying $575 for an application fee, when Ukrainians are offered a different program where there is no fee? — I mean, that comes down to a decision made by the Biden administration to say, for Afghans, this is the path for humanitarian parole, but for Ukrainians, this is the path for humanitarian parole. Let me be clear: Ukraine is an active war zone. Legal advocates support the Uniting for Ukraine program. In fact, if anything, it’s kind of the model of what humanitarian parole could, should, maybe needs to be. But the discrepancy, or the idea that here’s a program that rolled out months after the departure from Kabul, and it’s still only being applied for Ukrainians, whereas Afghans are still in this state of limbo, I just think a lot of people in this community, in this diaspora, legal advocates, they just have a lot of questions.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you — on Friday, we interviewedAnatol LIeven, senior fellow at Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, spoke out about the difference in how Ukrainian refugees here are treated, accepted and how Afghan refugees will be received. This was his reply.
ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, I mean, the response to Ukraine has obviously been — and Ukrainian refugees — has been vastly more generous. It’s clearly disgraceful not to give asylum to people who have worked for the United States of America or Britain. It’s dishonorable. It is dishonorable. However, when it comes to larger numbers of Afghan refugees, as we have seen from previous generations, there have been often real problems of integration. Therefore, you know, even in this first generation, some of these people who came to the West to seek refuge from terrorism and extremism. So, I’m afraid that, you know, simply saying that we must accept anyone who wants to leave Afghanistan and can is not a solution. Like Poles and other Ukrainians, it is much easier to integrate them and more likely to succeed in Western societies. I mean, that sounds harsh, but I’m afraid it is a fact.
AMY GOODMAN: “A fact,” Najib Aminy?
NAJIB AMINY: I’m perplexed as to why he would even say that out loud. How do you answer that question? I think — let’s break it down like this. There’s so much focus on just Afghans who might have a connection to Western governments, if they were translators or if they worked with the forces. And I think, let’s even unpack that before addressing the previous speaker. That needs to stop, because all it’s suggesting is that Afghans who were part of the effort are the only Afghans that matter, when, in fact, you know, for the past 20 years, and if you want to go back even further, back in the ’80s and that conflict, the U.S. involvement in that country, it spans generations. And so, this notion that only translators are the ones who have priority, or only those who helped out with the forces, when, in fact, like, there’s a direct connection or a very strong connection between most average Afghans and the U.S. effort over the past two decades. It doesn’t just boil down to people who might have been translators.
As to the point about integration, I mean, what’s the rubric? What’s the metric? What is the metric? You might have a different affiliation of food or faith or language or clothing or culture, and as for that, it’s difficult to integrate, therefore, you know what, [inaudible] — like, I don’t know if that’s — I guess, to answer your question: Is that a fact? Hard no.
AMY GOODMAN:Najib Aminy: I want to thank producer at for being with us. RevealThe Center for Investigative Reporting. We’ll link to your piece, “Afghanistan’s Recognition Problem.” Back in 30 seconds.