Helping Immigrants from Afghanistan Prosper in the USA


Mary Thomas, a legal assistant at the law offices of N.S. Kumar in Los Angeles, joined the Borgen Project for a conversation over Zoom about her experiences helping immigrants from Afghanistan relocate to the United States. She detailed the myriad barriers facing immigrants throughout the immigration process, as well as how these contribute to their reasons for wanting to become American citizens.

Why Are Afghans Coming to the USA?

In 2022, only 33% of Afghan households could consistently afford food. Afghanistan is also one of the most at-risk countries in the world for worsening humanitarian crises, and more than 50% of the 41 million citizens in the country were reliant on humanitarian aid by December 2022. Many Afghans consequently see American citizenship as a pathway to economic freedom.

Thomas emphasized that violence has greatly contributed to a nearly 25x increase in humanitarian parole applications from immigrants from Afghanistan: “Almost none of the cases I’ve worked with have been because of natural disasters, but because of war.” This is especially true since the 2021 Taliban takeover. Demonstrations have become more common throughout Afghan cities, and the ACLED tracked more than a hundred attacks on women and journalists between 2021 and 2023.

Issues They Face Throughout the Process

Many Afghans face dangers at home during the immigration process. Since the Taliban took control of the government, women’s educational opportunities have been nearly eliminated. For example, in August 2022, over 100 students traveling from Kabul to Qatar to study were stopped before boarding their flight; the Taliban ordered all female students to return home.

Furthermore, Afghans who have aided the United States are often subject to police violence and social isolation in Afghanistan. There is a special visa program for people fleeing the Taliban, but Thomas says that due to backlogs, “There’ve been many cases of Afghans who’ve applied and been murdered by the Taliban while waiting.”

Thomas emphasizes that socioeconomic hurdles like joblessness, lack of American connections and language barriers are other issues facing immigrants from Afghanistan. Lack of English proficiency exacerbates the complexity of the immigration process, and there are virtually no government resources for things like stipends, meaning finding sponsors, securing a source of income and building a social safety net can make the difference between successfully transitioning into American society or falling into poverty.

Immigrating to the US is also incredibly expensive. For example, the I-131 form for humanitarian parole applicants carries a $575 filing fee alone. This forces many Afghans to scrape together funds not always readily available to escape.

Fixing The Process

Trauma-informed lawyering is a key component in making the process for immigrants from Afghanistan as painless as possible. Because of the arduous and costly process of reaching the United States and the fragile socioeconomic situation once immigrants arrive, many individuals have already experienced significant emotional distress by the time they meet a legal office.

Moreover, arguing a case before US Citizenship and Immigration Services forces many immigrants to relive past traumas. Because of this, many of Thomas’ colleagues have attended trauma-informed lawyering seminars to improve the quality of their work. Additionally, regular follow-ups are conducted for most humanitarian cases to check on how clients are doing after they reach America.

Thomas also pointed to two current bills that can help immigrants from Afghanistan. The Afghan Adjustment Act, introduced in August 2022 by Senator Klobuchar, proposes a streamlined process for processing Afghan nationals trying to relocate to the US. This bill specifically targets Afghans who aided or worked with the United States in some way before the Taliban takeover. If passed, this bill could help thousands of Afghans who have been left behind quickly secure a green card.

More recently, Representative Salazar proposed the bipartisan Dignity Act in May 2023. Provisions include a streamlined pathway for a third of a million TPS holders and their spouses to obtain Lawful Permanent Resident Status and automatic visa approval after waiting on the backlog for 10 years. Thomas said about the bill, “I think it humanizes the process more, in a way that’s absent now.” Additionally, the bill outlines strategies to develop countries abroad economically, acknowledging that poverty is a root cause of immigration to the United States.

Contacting congressional representatives to voice support as a constituent for these Acts and increasing foreign aid spending is one of the easiest ways that American citizens can help impoverished and at-risk immigrants from Afghanistan escape the dangers in their home country.

Source : Borgen