The U.S. Is at Risk of Failing Our Afghan Allies. Here’s How the Biden Administration Can Prevent That

The U.S. has tools in its arsenal to ease the plight of Afghans who desperately need to leave their homeland. We need to use these tools immediately.

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A local Afghan boy stands near U.S. Army members in Farah province, Afghanistan, in 2000. (U.S. Navy / Lt. Chad A. Dulac)

When the United States withdrew from Afghanistan in August, we left tens of thousands of Afghan allies behind. For many who had worked alongside Americans for the past two decades, Afghanistan has become a death trap. But the United States has the means—and more importantly, an obligation—to help them get out.

Twenty years ago, the United States helped Afghans build a new reality for themselves, from training a cadre of women judges to supporting the blossoming of girls’ schools. Across every aspect of society, those Afghans who were launching their dreams are now hiding in fear as the Taliban go door-to-door, searching for high-value targets.

We personally know many of these targets. As immigration attorneys, we represent hundreds of Afghans whose lives are at risk since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.

One of our clients fearlessly advocated for women’s rights and education in Afghanistan for over 10 years working at The Ministry of Women Affairs, recently renamed by the Taliban as the Ministry of Virtue. She would visit young women hospitalized for terrible domestic violence injuries offering help and a safer future—but now, she is in hiding. 

Another client worked at the central bank monitoring money flow to ensure it didn’t get into the hands of terrorist organizations. His name, picture and other key biometric data are now in the hands of the very people who he’d been working to thwart.

Two teenage daughters had patiently waited for years to be reunited with their parents in the United States while the arcane immigration system processed their papers. They are still waiting for a U.S. embassy to issue their visas.

Each of these individuals faced great obstacles as they tried to evacuate—getting past Taliban checkpoints, violent beatings and gunfire, and dangerously large crowds—but they were turned away at the airport gate.

We are haunted by the pain, fear and grief we see in our clients and their families as we work on not only their immigration cases, but with help finding them safe houses and possible escape routes. As co-chairs of the Afghan Task Force for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, we call on the Biden administration to help Afghan nationals seek protection in the United States and to ensure the safety of those who remain.


We call on the Biden administration to help Afghan nationals seek protection in the United States and to ensure the safety of those who remain.


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Students at a midwifery school in Nili, Afghanistan, in July 2009. (Flickr / United Nations Photo, Eric Kanalstein)

The U.S. has tools in its arsenal to ease the plight of Afghans who desperately need to leave their homeland. We need to use these tools immediately.

Specifically, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should devote resources to streamline and expedite the humanitarian parole application process, a pathway for Afghan nationals seeking protection in the United States. Expanding access to humanitarian parole will help thousands of people, including women who are pioneers in human rights work, journalism or higher education, but who do not qualify for other legal options. It will also facilitate the reunion of families ripped apart during travel.

Further, DHS should ease related administrative processes, such as facilitating fee waivers for Afghan nationals applying for humanitarian parole and simplifying the bureaucratic forms financial sponsors must complete.

The Department of State (DOS) should also be funded to replenish its visa-processing capacity, which was greatly diminished under the Trump administration. DOS needs staff who can review applications and the resources to conduct remote visa interviews after successful background clearance. Without these resources, vulnerable Afghans, including those who have been approved for humanitarian parole, will be unable to evacuate. 

Finally, the Biden administration and its allies must develop additional solutions to evacuate the remaining vulnerable Afghans, such as expanding visa-upon-arrival options or allowing parole processing at friendly nations’ embassies inside Afghanistan. If more nations allowed Afghans to apply for a visa online or once they arrive at their destination it would facilitate their safe travel to the U.S.

What good will it do to have thousands of approved humanitarian parole applications if people can’t leave Afghanistan? 

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A U.S. Army member greets children from Angla Kala village during a unit visit in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, Feb. 6, 2010. (U.S. Army / Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte)

The Afghan men and women who risked their lives on behalf of the U.S. now face serious threats under the Taliban. They were instrumental in helping American servicemen and women stay safe for 20 years and deserve our loyalty and protection. 

There is precedent for accepting our Afghan allies just as we did when we welcomed more than 100,000 Vietnamese refugees in 1975 or when, in 1979, we doubled the number of refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos to 14,000 per month.

The United States has a moral obligation to evacuate our Afghan allies, and a chance to continue our humanitarian legacy.

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About and

Attorney Mahsa Khanbabai is an elected director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association Board of Governors and co-chair of the AILA Afghan Taskforce. She has been in private practice for over 20 years. She represents corporate, educational and individual clients throughout the U.S. and abroad on immigration matters.
Attorney Parastoo Zahedi is co-chair of the AILA Afghan Taskforce and an elected director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association Board of Governors, in private practice in Virginia. She represents corporate and individual clients throughout the U.S. and abroad on immigration matters.