President Joe Biden has asked Congress to pass legislation to help solidify permanent status for Afghan refugees as part of his supplemental request for Ukraine funding.
The provision would provide a pathway to permanent residency for the more than 76,000 Afghans who were evacuated last summer and resettled in the United States with temporary, two-year humanitarian parole status.
Advocates and Democratic lawmakers have called for the passage of an Afghan adjustment act to secure their status in the U.S., so they aren’t left in legal limbo next year. Democrats in the House and Senate have been working on the legislation, but it didn’t have any recent traction until the White House request was announced last week.
Shawn VanDiver, who leads the #AfghanEvac coalition, said he and other advocates urged the White House to include the Afghan status measure in the Ukraine funding request, which already has bipartisan support.
“We helped point out that this might be the last possible opportunity for these folks to get it done this Congress,” he told Spectrum News.
“We brought all these folks over here in August. We gave them two years in a temporary status,” he added. “Now what we’re waiting on is for Congress to take action.”
VanDiver said timing is a key to why he believes the Afghan adjustment measure should pass along with the Ukraine funding. It could be difficult to pass on its own, and waiting to include it in the 2023 defense budget or other package could delay its approval until next year, when Afghans are closer to falling out of status.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who has been leading the Afghan adjustment legislation in the Senate with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., told Spectrum News in a statement that he was “glad” to see the act included in the Ukraine funding outline.
“Congress has done this before on humanitarian grounds, and our Afghan allies who supported U.S. forces for 20 years at great personal risk deserve no less,” he said, pointing to the portion of Afghan evacuees who worked alongside U.S. troops.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., became the first GOP lawmaker to publicly support the concept on Tuesday, as he told Roll Call.
Graham’s office confirmed to Spectrum News that he is supportive of the idea and that his staff is in the process of reviewing the text included in Biden’s funding request.
As written in the White House request, the measure would require Afghans to have been paroled into the U.S. by September of this year, and they must live in the country continuously for a full year before they apply for a green card.
Under the proposal, Afghans must have also completed background checks and screening under Operation Allies Welcome — the interagency effort to resettle Afghan evacuees —plus any other additional vetting required by the Department of Homeland Security for their status adjustment.
“We've seen broad bipartisan support on this,” VanDiver, a Navy veteran, said.
He and others have linked support for Afghans to support for U.S. military veterans, especially those who served alongside Afghans during the war that worked as interpreters, drivers and cultural advisers.
“[Elected officials] stand up and say they stand with the troops. It’s time to put your money where your mouth is,” he said.