National Security

Biden weighs temporary protected status for Afghans

Afghans displaced from their homes due to the Taliban takeover arrive at Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Va., on Monday, August 30, 2021.
Greg Nash

The Biden administration is considering offering Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Afghans already in the United States, three sources familiar with the matter told The Hill, as the clock winds down on how to find a way for thousands to legally remain in the country.

The move comes as advocates are pushing the administration to offer broader protections and a pathway to citizenship to those who arrived during the chaotic evacuation.

While more than 70,000 Afghans arrived in the U.S. during the evacuation, they remain in a tenuous immigration status, with some given as little as one year to formalize their paperwork to remain in America.

The White House is weighing TPS for Afghanistan along with several other countries, the sources said, a process that allows those otherwise without legal status to remain in the country without fear of deportation due to unstable conditions in their home country.

While the administration has faced calls to issue TPS for months, the idea has gained more traction in recent days as the administration grapples with multiple pathways for securing status for Afghans.

A TPS designation would only help those already present in the United States — a group that includes a few thousand Afghans who came to the U.S. prior to the evacuation and were unable to return, as well as offering a short-term solution for those evacuated who are running out of time to secure their status.

But it does not offer a pathway to citizenship and is instead often reissued in six-, 12- or 18-month increments, leaving recipients on shaky ground, unsure if the White House will renew the designation.

An administration official, however, told The Hill that TPS may be designed to apply only to those in the U.S. prior to the evacuation and is just one of several options being considered but that no final determination has been made.

The discussion over whether to issue such a designation comes as advocates are pushing for Congress to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act (AAA), which would allow those who entered the U.S. during the evacuation to apply for green cards and eventually citizenship.

“TPS is an important safety net for certain Afghans that should be accompanied by Congress’s passage of an Afghan Adjustment Act. That’s because TPS is an important but temporary protection from deportation for Afghans already in the U.S. but it’s not a durable or permanent solution, whereas an Afghan Adjustment Act provides permanent protection with a pathway to citizenship for Afghan evacuees the U.S. government brought here,” Meredith Owen, director of policy and advocacy for Church World Service, which is assisting in settling Afghan evacuees, told The Hill.

The Department of Homeland Security, which evaluates countries for TPS, stressed no determination has yet been made.

“At this time, there is no decision to designate Afghanistan for Temporary Protected Status to benefit Afghans currently residing in the United States. The Biden Administration supports legislation to provide permanent legal status to Afghans through the Afghan Adjustment Act and we urge Congress to act swiftly,” a spokesperson told The Hill. 

Afghans brought to the U.S. during the evacuation entered under a process known as humanitarian parole, where the government temporarily waives immigration regulations, allowing their entrance and giving them one or two years to adjust their status.

“The U.S. made a promise of protection to U.S.-affiliated and at-risk Afghans. That promise does not, and cannot, have an expiration date,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said at a Monday press conference pushing for passage of the AAA.

But the six-month mark of the fall of Kabul was reached Tuesday, meaning those with the shortest humanitarian parole timelines now have just six more months to secure a way to stay in the U.S. without risking deportation.

Advocates are scrambling to get the AAA passed as quickly as possible as part of to the fiscal 2022 omnibus spending bill.

“When you look at the legislative calendar, what other certainty is there of a bill passed in Congress? There just isn’t between now and August. So you know a lot of folks in our coalition are super nervous that our window for trying to accomplish this is now,” Jennifer Quigley, senior director for government affairs at Human Rights First, told The Hill.

The push for TPS, however, comes from Afghan communities in the U.S. who say the status could help an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 who were already in the U.S. prior to the evacuation, according to figures from the Afghan American Foundation. 

It’s a group that would not be aided by the AAA, leaving many advocates to argue both are necessary and requiring action not just from the administration but also a push in Congress.

“It’s a really, really quick fix, like a tourniquet, until long term status is sorted out,” Joseph Azam, board chair for the foundation told The Hill.

“It’s not sutures. It’s not a cast. It’s not resetting the bone. It really is something that can be done like a tourniquet like we do in the field where you’re just ensuring that you’re preventing further harm and damage until you figure out how to heal or address the issue more robustly.”

TPS designations are issued with a date that a person must have already been in the U.S. in order to qualify. An earlier date could address those already in the U.S. before the evacuation – a smaller group that includes those on student visas – while still putting the onus on Congress to pass the AAA for those brought to the U.S. under the evacuation.

A second administration official who spoke with The Hill said the White House has sought to back congressional efforts to pass the AAA and prioritize creating a pathway for legal status for the 76,000 brought to the U.S. during the evacuation.

“We don’t want anybody to be deported back to Afghanistan. So 100 percent – we need both of these,” Quigley said.

But she stressed that Congress cannot dither if it’s going to meaningfully protect Afghan evacuees.

“If we don’t get AAA in the next few weeks it doesn’t mean that we have no opportunities right – of course we have [more] opportunities. It’s unclear as to what those would be in the next six months,” she said.

Azam said the bill has bipartisan support, something he hopes does not change with “the psychology of policymaking and how laws are passed in an election year.”

“We’re trying to figure out, are people going to act on principle?” he said. “Are they going to follow through on their word?”

Updated 2:59 p.m.

Tags Afghanistan Department of Homeland Security refugees

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