Women Need the Afghan Adjustment Act

For Afghans, life under the Taliban means violence and persecution, the wholesale denigration of women, and food insecurity. Congress must pass the AAA.

An Afghan woman hangs clothes to dry in front of a cave in Bamyan, Afghanistan, on May 8, 2023. Many Afghan people live in caves due to the political and economic crises and subsequent drought, hunger, disease and malnutrition. About 28.3 million Afghan are in need of urgent humanitarian aid. (Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Update Monday, Oct. 9, at 10 a.m. PT: After a deadly earthquake in Afghanistan this weekend, the need to provide a path to permanent status for Afghans seeking asylum grows more urgent.

It’s been over two years since the withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan and, in what Ms. has called “a timeline of horror,” Afghan women have seen their rights, opportunities and dreams systematically crushed by a government increasingly intent on making them invisible and voiceless. 

Thousands of Afghan women entered the United States as part of Operation Allies Welcome. Still, they continue to be hampered by the lack of a simple, straightforward and reliable way to obtain permanent legal status and to become citizens.

Congress can change that by passing the Afghan Adjustment Act (AAA).

S.2327/H.R.4627 was reintroduced this summer by a bipartisan group of senators and representatives. The AAA would allow Afghans paroled into the United States to apply for their green cards, provided they met basic background checks and other eligibility requirements.

Since August 2021, almost 100,000 Afghans have entered the United States, most as parolees whom the U.S. relocated in the days after the Taliban took over the country in August 2021. Congress quickly authorized funds to treat these parolees as refugees, offering them resettlement assistance and other services.

We have had two years to show the world whether or not we will stand with those who stood with us.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)

Unlike refugees who are eligible for permanent legal status and a path to citizenship, the approximately 84,000 Afghan parolees have no direct path to citizenship.

  • Roughly 40 percent may eventually obtain Special Immigrant Visas, which confer a green card based on assistance rendered to the U.S. military or government during the war in Afghanistan.
  • Many others will likely qualify for asylum—a determination that an individual residing in the U.S. is a refugee. Government officials report that more than 99 percent of completed Afghan asylum cases have been granted.
  • Others who may or may not have come through Operation Allies Welcome could qualify for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which is available to designated nationals of countries when it is determined that country conditions because of war, natural disaster, or government instability make it impossible for individuals to return to their country and for the governmental infrastructure to handle that return.

Afghans Need Swift, Permanent Protection

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas last month redesignated Afghanistan for TPS for 18 months and extended eligibility to a broader number of Afghans. The government estimates that approximately 18,000 individuals who were already in the U.S. at the time of the withdrawal or who arrived after (many of them at the southwestern border with Mexico) could be protected under this provision.

Still, the need for protection—whether through TPS or something more permanent, like asylum—is overwhelming, given the incredible stories of violence and persecution, the wholesale denigration of women, the food insecurity, and the swift reprisals against former government officials and other U.S. sympathizers under the Taliban regime.  

What is surprising, however, is that we are requiring people who so clearly are refugees to go through the long, complex and traumatic process of filing for asylum and re-living the terrors they have faced. Or similarly, forcing them to rely on the important but stopgap measures like parole or TPS.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) has spearheaded efforts to remind Congress of the urgency of resolving the situation of Afghan parolees, “This is our moment. We have had two years to show the world whether or not we will stand with those who stood with us. Those that served in Afghanistan have come to us and … they have all asked the same thing, and that is to not leave these courageous Afghans who stood with our military in limbo.”

There are not enough lawyers to take on complex asylum cases, and those who do find an attorney still must wait for many months to get an answer, given the major application backlogs facing the government.

Homayra Yusufi

A refugee camp in Idomeni, Greece. (Nicolas Economou / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Homayra Yusufi, acting director of the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans (PANA) in San Diego, sees the impact of this limbo every day. While PANA serves newcomers from all countries, it has been deeply engaged in the large Afghan community in San Diego. Over the last two years, It has assisted hundreds of parolees, including unaccompanied Afghan children.  

Yusufi—who came to the U.S. as a child after the former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in the 1980s—says this new group of Afghans needs immediate support and the confidence from having a permanent home in the United States. 

“Afghan parolees are facing the same challenges as other refugees, such as finding adequate housing and employment, but they are also struggling to find attorneys so that they can apply for a legal status that will allow them to remain. There are not enough lawyers to take on complex asylum cases, and those who do find an attorney still must wait for many months to get an answer, given the major application backlogs facing the government.”

The AAA could cut through some of those backlogs, creating a more streamlined process for getting on the path toward citizenship. It also expands opportunities for those left behind in Afghanistan to come to the U.S.. It requires the government to establish a task force to ensure the U.S. continues its relocation efforts for Afghans endangered by their connection to the U.S.

Yusufi, like many other volunteers and advocates, spent her summer working with Afghans whose two-year parole was about to expire, assisting them with applying for “re-parole,” a renewal of the original permission to remain in the U.S.

But such temporary fixes come at a cost.

“Time that could have been spent assisting people with other applications or adjusting to their new communities, was instead devoted to advocating with the government to create a re-parole process, educating people about re-parole, and helping them submit those applications instead,” said Yusufi. “Re-parole is necessary right now, but it keeps people in limbo, making them feel more uncertain and anxious about their futures.”

I have seen the fury, frustration and determination of Afghan women who served in various leadership positions in the Afghan elected government. … I take a page from them and harden my resolve to fight until we truly leave no one behind.

Jill Marie Bussey

Dragging out the legalization process for Afghans doesn’t just put their lives on hold. It also forces the U.S. government to use limited resources to build and run a re-parole program. If the AAA had already been enacted, re-parole would have been unnecessary, and all the energy, creativity and funds deployed could have been devoted to implementing the new green card process.

Women and the Afghan Adjustment Act

There is yet another aspect to the AAA. It is an essential lifeline for women.

Afghan women protest against the Taliban ban on women accessing university education on Dec. 22, 2022 in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Stringer / Getty Images)

Nationally recognized for her work as a champion of refugee women and children, Yusufi cannot shake the horrors women face in Afghanistan. “I agree that now is the time to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act. Let’s not leave Afghan women who live in fear of being sent back to the cruel hands of the Taliban in legal limbo.” 

Obtaining permanent status provides stability for women who want to continue to fight for women still in Afghanistan, according to Jill Marie Bussey, director for Public Policy at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

Bussey reflected on her work with Afghan women elected leaders.“I have seen the fury, frustration and determination of Afghan women who served in various leadership positions in the Afghan elected government who are fighting to stabilize their status here in the U.S. so they can ultimately go to the U.N. and other governing bodies abroad to continue to fight for their sisters at home. They humble and ground me in this fight. I take a page from them and harden my resolve to fight until we truly leave no one behind.”

Take Action for Afghanistan

Urge Congress to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act to protect the lives of women who fled the Taliban and allow them to continue their educations, raise their families, and fight for their rights and dreams.

The executive branch can use humanitarian parole and Temporary Protected Status to manage emergency immigration situations. But they are not enough to tackle the long game of transition and becoming a full part of the community.

Only Congress can provide that security through the passage of the AAA.

Up next:

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Mary Giovagnoli is an immigration attorney and policy expert who has worked for over 25 years in both the federal government and nonprofit advocacy to improve the immigration system. She is a former executive director of the Refugee Council USA. She served as the DHS deputy assistant secretary for immigration policy from 2015 to 2017.