'It's a big risk:' After two years in the U.S., Afghan evacuees navigate complex immigration process
The Biden administration is working to allow tens of thousands of Afghans to remain in the United States. After the Taliban takeover two years ago, they were allowed to come to the U.S. under a temporary program, but that program is scheduled to expire this summer.
This story is part of a new TPR series Between Here and Homeabout how Afghans are navigating life in San Antonio after the war.
As the war in Afghanistan ended and the country devolved into chaos, Nangialy Nang worked alongside American troops at Kabul airport, trying to maintain a security perimeter. The U.S. was in the middle of a massive airlift operation to evacuate vulnerable Afghans and foreign citizens.
“I was an active interpreter, working shoulder to shoulder with U.S. forces until the very last day,” he said. “I was in uniform, and I was on duty at Kabul."
Nang had a longstanding relationship with U.S. troops. He worked with them since 2007, focusing on the “same goals, same target, and same achievement.”
As the Taliban closed in, Nang and his family stepped onto an evacuation flight too. They were among more than 124,000 people evacuated from Kabul in the final weeks of the war, including about 76,000 Afghans.
“I had been told by my advisor like ‘Hey, we’re leaving. Get your family here,’ ” Nang said.
Nang and many other evacuees were resettled in the U.S. under a temporary status called humanitarian parole, which protects them from deportation. It also allows them to work, rent apartments, get drivers licenses, and enroll their kids in school. Nang settled in San Antonio, where he, his wife, and eight children share a three bedroom apartment.
But parole expires later this summer for most Afghan evacuees.
“When your parole expires, it means that you lose everything,” Nang explained. “You will be stuck in the middle of the street, homeless.”
The Biden administration has announced a plan to extend parole for another two years. Earlier this month, it also said it would streamline the extension process.
But Afghan evacuees may still fall through the cracks. Under the administration’s plan, some will have their parole extensions considered automatically. Others will have to submit applications online and might need legal help to do so.
“It's not going to be a ‘slam dunk’ clear pathway,” said Margaret Costantino, director of the Center for Refugee Services in San Antonio. “There are a lot of people who don't read or write in any language, and they don't understand. It's complicated for everybody.”
Costantino said she expects to see a lot of confusion and panic from her clients as the summer draws to a close. She suggested that Afghan evacuees should consult with immigration attorneys to determine their best course of action.
The government is hosting events in a handful of cities to help with parole renewals, and advocates are trying to spread the word.
#AfghanEvac, a coalition that works to relocate and resettle Afghans, has developed a program to share information with Afghan community leaders.
“I hope that the processing times are swift,” said Shawn VanDiver, the organization’s founder. “I hope that it happens quickly. I am really concerned about folks who aren't going to hear about this, people who are sort of isolated in their communities.”
VanDiver said he’s grateful the White House is taking the problem seriously and trying to find solutions. “The administration has been working very hard to ensure that the mission of welcome is able to continue,” he said.
Ultimately, Nang hopes to get a green card so he can stay in the U.S. permanently. But for now, he's hoping to have his parole extended with enough time to spare his livelihood. He works full time for a refugee resettlement agency helping people in the same situation he's in.
“It's affecting everything,” he said, “Mentally and physically. When you go to bed, you're just thinking like, ‘Okay, what's going to happen?’ So it’s a big risk that you’re faced with.”
This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans.
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