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Democrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans

Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks to reporters after hearing from President Biden at a Democratic caucus luncheon at the Senate Russell Office building to discuss voting rights and filibuster reform on Thursday, January 13, 2022.
Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is calling on the Biden administration to address significant barriers that are blocking tens of thousands of at-risk Afghans from finding safe haven in the U.S.  

In a letter sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) Alejandro Mayorkas on Thursday, the majority leader and 14 Senate Democrats called for the top officials to address reports of high denial rates for Afghans seeking humanitarian parole, totaling an estimated 35,000 people.  

The senators single out DHS’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as putting in place an “untenably high standard of proof” at-risk Afghans must provide to qualify for humanitarian parole, a status that allows vulnerable people to enter the U.S. in an emergency situation or for an urgent humanitarian reason. 

The Los Angeles Times in December reported that USCIS had so far approved only 135 humanitarian parole applications out of nearly 30,000 submissions, and cited immigration lawyers beginning to receive denials for their clients.

The senators criticize DHS as putting in place “unrealistic requirements” such that at-risk Afghans need to “provide documentation from a third-party source specifically naming the applicant and outlining the harms they face.” 

“These standards mean that the majority of potentially eligible Afghan applicants will likely be denied parole, as given the chaos surrounding the U.S. exit from Afghanistan in August, many have fled to third countries or do not have written documentation of threats from the Taliban,” the senators wrote. 

About 74,000 Afghans were evacuated to the U.S. amid the American exit from Afghanistan but an estimated 35,000 have fled to other countries out of fear of violent reprisal from the Taliban over their work in a host of fields viewed as antithetical to the groups strict interpretation of Islam. 

This includes oppression of women in general, who are largely barred from working, attending school, or going out in public without a male escort; and those who worked with Western governments and organizations in the fields of law enforcement and justice; activists, journalists; and former government workers. 

The senators raise in their letter that many Afghans fled Taliban rule on the advice of the U.S. to apply for humanitarian parole and that the Biden administration has a national security imperative to fulfill its commitments. 

“We strongly believe that the United States must remain true to its commitments to protect vulnerable Afghans through advancing a fair, transparent, and expeditious humanitarian parole process, through which Afghans both in and outside of Afghanistan will have the opportunity to seek safe haven in the United States,” the senators wrote. 

“This is not only a moral imperative, but critical for our interests in being seen as a credible, honest, and loyal international partner, and essential for our national security. We urge your prompt attention to this critical issue.” 

In addition to Schumer, the letter was signed by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  

Other signatories included Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.). 

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas Antony Blinken Bernie Sanders Bob Menendez Charles Schumer Chris Van Hollen Chuck Schumer Cory Booker Elizabeth Warren Jeff Merkley Ron Wyden Sheldon Whitehouse Tammy Duckworth Tim Kaine Tina Smith Tom Carper

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